Kevin Kuehl graduated from Georgetown University in 2011 and studied abroad in El Salvador with the Casa de La Solidaridad program of Santa Clara University in spring 2010.
It was a hot, sunny January day — hot because it was El Salvador. I walked through the rose garden at the UCA looking at the bright red roses. I wanted to try to feel something deep inside of me. Did I feel anything? These were the questions I asked myself as I visited the rose garden of the UCA martyrs on my first day of studying abroad with the Casa de La Solidaridad program. In my mind, I knew the story. I had read about it in books and heard about it at the Ignatian Family Teach-In. I knew that just 20 years earlier the bodies of six Jesuit priests lay on that ground in pools of blood. They were teachers and scholars, and they had been violently murdered for doing what few others dared — they spoke out for the poor and victims of violence. Even knowing these details of the brutal murder of the Jesuits beforehand, I still struggled to feel something more. I had expected to be overwhelmed with emotion, but I wasn’t. I knew that they had died there, yet I didn’t quite realize — in the fullest sense of that word — that they still live.
Through my semester with the Salvadoran people, I began to learn that the story of the martyrs was not about death but about resurrection. As I accompanied so many Salvadorans who sought peace, reconciliation and love, I started to realize that the deaths of the Jesuits, Archbishop Romero, and so many other martyrs had not extinguished the flames of hope, as the assassins might have intended, but rather spread the fire among the people. As I encountered ordinary peacemakers and prophets, I began to sense the warmth of those life-giving flames that the witness of the martyrs had ignited.
On my very last day at the UCA, I went back to the rose garden for the first time since that January. After four months of glimpsing the dreams of the martyrs, I felt it. They were not dead, but very much alive in the ardent sacrificial love of Christ that unites us. My hope is that when we reflect on the rose garden today, maybe — if only slightly — we will feel it. We will sense the movement from death to life.