In 1989, five months before the Jesuits were assassinated, Karl Kiser, SJ, and I managed to talk our way into El Salvador. At the Salvadoran embassy in Guatemala (where Karl and I were studying Spanish) we tactfully impersonated tourists hoping to visit the beautiful Salvadoran beaches. It got a little dicey when they asked if Loyola Chicago (where we were studying back in the States) was a Jesuit school. Knowing the answer “yes” would be a deal breaker, we simply replied, “What’s a Jesuit?” and found ourselves approved.
For us young scholastics, El Salvador was the epitome of cool, the “it frontier” where everyone wanted to go for a piece of the social justice pie. My intentions to go to El Salvador were good, but I was still a naive 22-year-old idealist when it came to its complicated realities. When I arrived in El Salvador and saw the tanks on the streets, the overwhelming poverty and the faces filled with fear, my simplified perception was swiftly dismantled. I left the country with the blunt awareness that there were no quick fixes in social justice.
Five months later, the Jesuits at the UCA (where we stayed) were killed, forever redefining “a faith that does justice.” Now in 2014, I’m finishing up a documentary, “Blood in the Backyard,” about the martyrs, their legacies and how their sacrifice continues to affect El Salvador and the world. The experience of listening to the Salvadoran interview subjects vulnerably speak their truths, sometimes with raw pain, and sometimes with inexplicable joy, truly moved me. Likewise, hearing people like the former American ambassador to El Salvador earnestly say, “I should have handled things differently,” gave me renewed faith in the human capacity to transform.
We need to hear these stories not simply to keep the legacy of the martyrs alive, but to witness examples of sacrifice, resilience and the real dangers that accompany living out the Gospel. Twenty-five years after my first visit to El Salvador, the country seems more complicated to me than ever. But I know there is much to be gained by reflecting on these complicated truths, that this is the kind of storytelling Loyola Productions’ ministry is all about: to challenge, inspire and help audiences find God in all things. We hope you’ll experience some of that when you watch “Blood in the Backyard.”