God is Real in El Salvador
This summer, I had the privilege of being a part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s delegation to El Salvador to honor the 25th anniversary of the deaths of the martyrs of the UCA. On our first day there, we were honored to hear from Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, who was a member of the UCA community in November 1989. Fr. Sobrino was away in Thailand at the time and his life was spared.
During that first presentation, Fr. Sobrino said to us, “What are you going to do here [in El Salvador]? Are you going to see real things? Meet real people? What is not real is not spiritual ... God is real in El Salvador.”
The people who became most "real" for me on this trip to El Salvador were the martyrs themselves. I have studied the events of that fateful night in 1989, the legacies of the martyrs and the influence of the UCA for the last 10 years as a part of my Jesuit education and formation. However, the Jesuits always seemed to me like these mythic creatures, honorable and courageous people that I admired and was inspired by, but could never be. That changed this summer.
This summer, as I walked through the Centro Monseñor Romero (the museum dedicated to all those who fought for justice in the Catholic Church in El Salvador), I was struck by all the little things that proved the humanity of the Jesuits and Elba and Celina — the clothes they wore, the trinkets that were on their desks, the cluttered papers and books that filled their rooms. As one of the students of the UCA pointed out to us, “We keep these things on display here to remind us of their humanity and connect it to our own.”
As you step out of the Centro, you step into a classroom holding photo albums. These albums hold truly horrific pictures of the deaths of the Jesuits, Elba and Celina. They are incredibly difficult to look at, stomach-turning. However, they are necessary. After witnessing the lives of the martyrs, we need to step out of ignorance and understand the horror of their death. They were killed in the way they were because of how they lived.
Lastly, after contemplating these pictures, you step into the yard where the bodies of Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ; Ignacio Martín-Baró, SJ; Segundo Montes, SJ; Amando López, SJ; and Juan Ramón Moreno, SJ, were dragged. This place of bloodshed and horror has been transformed into a beautiful, lush rose garden. It has become a space of life and rebirth.
After walking through the Centro, contemplating the photos and stepping into the rose garden, I realized that this space has been intentionally designed to invite you into the life, crucifixion and resurrection of these men and women. And we need all three. We need the example of their lives and their humanity to make their commitment to the poor real and attainable. We need reminders of the horror of their deaths to make us angry and inspire us to action. And, we need a reminder of life to show us the potential for this work. Our call is the same as theirs. We are called to the same lives, to a commitment to a faith that does justice in our own contexts.
The Jesuits, Elba, and Celina were martyrs because of the way they lived, the ways they dedicated their lives and careers to the poor, the "crucified people” of El Salvador, as Fr. Ellacuría would call them. If we remember the way that they lived, rather than how they died, it will become easier for us to live as they live and to give our lives to the crucified people in our own midst.