A friend called. He was a former Jesuit, who had experienced being beaten by soldiers near the Calle Real refugee camp in El Salvador. He had defended some women against the abuse of authority that many soldiers and officers used to intimidate the refugees. On this, the morning of the call, however, he was in tears, very emotional. He reported to me that a bomb had gone off at the offices of labor organizers, killing several people known to him personally.
I felt helpless as I had before in the face of atrocities previously not imagined, now actual.
I listened. I tried to imagine a response ... to my friend, to the situation, to judgment day when asked where was I when so many were being killed, murdered.
Forward to a short time later, the early hours of the day we now commemorate, 25 years ago.
Another friend called. Slaughtered, the army came in and assassinated the housekeeper, Elba, and her daughter, Celine and with them the six Jesuits. Fierce and rather fiendish. How far can things go?
I dressed in a stupor. I went from our Oakland community to the north side of Berkeley, the venue of the Jesuit Communities. I found John Dear about to keep an appointment with Cynthia Ann Pile, a fellow divinity student. He was stricken. We asked others in our classes, for instance, if they had heard the news. John Baldovin allowed us to speak in class of the anguish and asked if we would accompany Bob Lassalle and the Salvadorans at the offices of Pete Wilson, then Senator. We vigiled. George Murphy accompanied us.
Then we went to Senator Cranston's office. His aides interviewed us. Then Fr. Murphy led several of us Jesuits and supporters to the Consul General's office, where we occupied the floor of the offices. The police surrounded us and waited for word about whether to arrest and/or remove us from the premises. The Consul General, a man with a threatening mien and demeanor, decided to speak with John Dear and Fr. Rector, George Murphy. I believe that it was in that belligerent interview he himself first learned of Ellacuría's death. While those two delegates were in the office, the police watched, monitored us. Some were kneeling, many very silent in prayer. We produced a Bible and read of the seven martyred Maccabee brothers and their mother dying a tortuous death at the hand of the Hellenistic overlord. The police seemed to take it all in, somberly.
In a few days with the help of faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology, especially Bill Spohn (R.I.P.), we organized a faith-based demonstration at the Federal Building in San Francisco. The Gospel was the widow crying, persistently with the unjust judge. While we were still gathered, Padre Jon Sobrino arrived from Bangkok. He had been at a theology conference when the other members of his community met their fate. I was hoping he would take solace from the very significant, numerous clergy and the response from the religious demonstrating at the Federal Building. As it turned out, over one hundred religious were arrested for blocking the entryways.
The response at the Graduate Theological Union was very solid and supportive. A call went out for a large gathering for prayer at the San Francisco Cathedral. It was there that I witnessed the Salvadorans, whose own ordeal reached even the stoniest of hearts, as they accompanied us in procession to the sanctuary. Their presence spoke of how in the past (in somewhat sketchy ways), we had accompanied them. Now they accompanied us in our collective grief.
Several of us organized a fast. John Auther, SJ, Rev. Bill O'Donnell (R.I.P.) and two Salvadoran women and John Dear and myself did a 21-day water-only fast to end military aid to El Salvador. Our lives will never be the same.
Meanwhile, we held a memorial service at Concord Naval Weapons Station for the martyrs. This site was chosen as it was where the bullets were issued that killed so many in Central America.
It could be said that this very small Central American country, named after the Savior of the World, would call to us, organize us into an attempt to embody the Gospel as these people lived out the history of a long line of Bethlehems, Jerusalems, undergoing the system of death dealing empires.