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Remembering the martyrs of El Salvador


Jesuit colleges around the country marked the 10th anniversary of the 1989 murders of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, with mid-November lectures, vigils and screenings of documentaries about the killings and the struggle for justice in Latin America.

Meanwhile the activist group SOA Watch prepared for its annual protest at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the School of the Americas -- a training facility operated by the U.S. Army for Latin American military officials. A 1995 United Nations truth commission report linked 19 graduates of the School of the Americas to the Jesuit slayings in El Salvador.

Graduates have also been linked to a variety of other human rights abuses throughout the hemisphere.

The initial protest at the school was held in 1990, on the first anniversary of the Jesuit murders. It has subsequently become an annual event. SOA Watch expects a crowd of more than 10,000 at this year’s demonstration, set for the weekend of Nov. 19-21.

It was a decade ago -- Nov. 16, 1989 -- that elements of the El Salvador army burst onto the grounds of the University of Central America in San Salvador and gunned down six Jesuit priests: Ignacio Ellacuria, Joaquin López y López, Amando López, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes and Juan Ramón Moreno. Also killed in the attack were the housekeeper, Julia Elba Ramos, and her 15-year-old daughter Celina Mariset Ramos.

The University of Central America played a leading role in the effort to resolve El Salvador’s decades-long civil war. Jesuit faculty members, who often spoke out against human rights abuses, were accused by the government and the military of providing intellectual support for the FMLN rebel uprising.

Though Ellacuria, the university’s rector, was the best-known of the six Jesuit victims, each had a distinguished academic career. Martin-Baro, for example, pioneered the use of opinion polls in El Salvador, and his results helped temper the frequently exaggerated claims of politicians and military leaders to massive popular support.

Several of the Jesuits were associated with liberation theology, which sought to align the church in Latin America with the interests of the poor majority. After the killings, some of the victims were found with their brains scooped out, a gesture of warning to intellectuals and academics.

The murders prompted a reevaluation of U.S. policy toward El Salvador and accelerated momentum toward a settlement of the civil war. A formal cease-fire was declared in February 1992.

Around the United States, dozens of Jesuit colleges planned events to commemorate the anniversary, according to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Washington.

Boston College will hold a special screening of the documentary “Enemies of War” about the murders on Dec. 1, with comments to follow by U.S. Representative Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.). Moakley, who helped press the case for an investigation following the murders in 1989, has also been one of the leaders of the congressional effort to close the School of the Americas.

Georgetown University planned to hold a teach-in in honor of the Jesuit martyrs on Nov. 12, with a special commemoration Mass on Nov. 16. The next day faculty were to hold a discussion on “What Could the Legacy of Martyrs of El Salvador Mean for Georgetown?”

Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles planned to plant eight crosses on university grounds, one for each of the victims, during the week of Nov. 13-19. On Nov. 16 the university was to stage a reenactment of the killings along with a special liturgy.

At Loyola University in Chicago, a special “Mass of the Martyrs” on Nov. 16 was to be followed by an interview on the ABC-TV news program “Nightline” about the anniversary.

Loyola University in New Orleans planned to stage three days of performances of “The Witness,” a dramatization adapted from interviews with witnesses to the slayings. The university was also to offer a Nov. 16 lecture by Jesuit Fr. Ernesto Vallente, who once belonged to the FMLN rebel movement in El Salvador.

Fordham College in New York planned to hold a lecture Nov. 11 on “Ought Not the Jesuits to Have Died?” by Teresa Whitfield and a Nov. 12 lecture on “Liberation Theology, Then and Now” by Paul Sigmund. On Nov. 16, eight crosses were to be placed on the campus in memory of the victims.

The November issue of the Jesuits’ magazine Company offers five articles on the El Salvador killings. The magazine is available on-line at www.companysj.com.

Several of the Jesuit colleges planned to sponsor delegations to the protest at the School of the Americas. The SOA Watch Web site offers details on the planned action: www.soaw.org.

At the University of Central America itself, events to commemorate the anniversary were scheduled throughout the month of November. Details are available on their Web site: www.uca.edu.sv

National Catholic Reporter, November 19, 1999