Matt Cuff is the policy associate for the National Advocacy Office of the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C.
Pope Francis tells us that when we encounter human pain, we cannot be neutral. In other words, we have to take sides. For me, the martyrs of the University of Central America (UCA) serve as models for how to do that.
That these men and women who lived and worked in one of the smallest countries in the Western Hemisphere would come to mean so much to me and so many others like me is something I never could have predicted as a freshman at Scranton Prep — I was born just eight days after the assassinations of the six Jesuits and Elba and Celina Ramos. Then again, I attended a Jesuit university and so have been lucky enough to visit El Salvador twice. It was through those visits, in offices for service and justice on campus, and in theology classrooms that I truly came to know these men and women.
In their personal lives, these martyrs ministered to and accompanied countless Salvadorans who were victims of civil war, torture, forced migration and rape. But if we stop there and honor them simply as good men and women who took part in charity, we miss the point. Their faith demanded a justice that went beyond personal aid to those in need. Justice, inspired by their faith, demanded that Fr. Ellacuría and his fellow Jesuits take public stances against government repression and injustice through their work at the UCA, in the pages of El Salvador’s major newspapers and even on TV on those occasions when government representatives found enough courage to debate them.
Their witness, both personal and prophetic, constantly reminds me that faith and commitment to the poor and the excluded must be lived out in public life. This faith is demanded of all of us, and it is this realization that continues to serve as the bedrock of the work I'm so grateful to participate in at the National Advocacy Office of the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C. We humbly and hopefully try to continue the work of these visionaries by engaging elected officials and government agencies to examine the crucial issues of our time: comprehensive and humane immigration reform, wages and work that respect our dignity as people, criminal justice reform, violence and displacement in Central America, and many others.
We do this because of the martyrs who have shown us how to pick a side, because after all we can’t be neutral.