I was two months old when news broke about the murders, when the realization came crashing down on U.S. citizens that it was necessary to re-examine foreign policy in El Salvador. Twenty-one years later, I stood staring at six jars of blood-soaked grass and six pairs of blood-soaked pajamas, preserved for what I thought was some perverse reason I’d never understand. But everyone in El Salvador believes in God, I learned — and these men were martyrs. They were good Christians, killed for doing their jobs.
That first visit to the museum of the martyrs at the UCA was part of orientation week for Casa de la Solidaridad, a study abroad program founded at Santa Clara University that probably would not exist if the Jesuits weren’t killed. Grounded in accompaniment, academic rigor, simple community living and spirituality, Casa continues to transform the lives of students by helping them put into practice Ellacuría’s vision of what a university ought to be: a social force working for faith and justice.
Twice a week, for Casa’s Praxis seminar, I spent the day at El Pueblo de Díos en Camino, a comunidade de base in a neighborhood at the base of the San Salvador volcano. I translated the name literally at first — “the people of God walking” — because it made practical sense. Walking was how we spent most of our time: visiting families, listening. I saw reality and saw that reality is economic, poverty is violent and political action is necessary for building the kingdom of God. These ideas are bigger than ideas: they are embodied in the people I met in El Salvador who followed the martyrs, who truly knew how to read the Gospel — by walking.
Reflecting on this now makes me uncomfortable. Unlike in El Salvador, where the reality of our world is stark and visible, the United States hides it — even (sometimes especially) in the Catholic churches and universities. We become experts in ignoring reality, or worse, in trivializing it. If we think that the forces that killed the martyrs are no longer at work in the world, their witness will be in vain.
And so, it is important to me to commemorate them. Their witness challenges me to look at God’s purpose for me in the world and ask “to whom do I belong?” We can’t kid ourselves and think our baptismal promises don’t need renewal.But I’m still so young. I’ve just started a job at Commonweal magazine where there is much opportunity to exercise my higher education and “speak truth in a time of life and distortion,” as Dean Brackley, SJ, puts it. Here I can prioritize voices that are seldom heard and ones that demand justice. Practically, this has to do with words, the shaping of them, and their publication. In a larger sense, it is trying to meet, as Ellacuría insistently repeats, “the basic needs of the majority of the population.”