Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday Commemoration of Jesuit Martyrs

20th Anniversary of a Call to Action

They were two Spanish Jesuits on a mission in El Salvador. They were two dear friends who intensely felt a calling to act in defense of the oppressed and challenge the establishment. Together they would alter the meaning of a Christian university by publicly turning its research departments into active social change agents. One is Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ, a renowned Catholic author and a leading figure on what Jesuit higher education should look like. The other is Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, Sobrino's inseparable colleague, spiritual guide and visionary partner. Twenty years ago, one would be martyred and one would narrowly escape.

In 1982 upon the acceptance of an honorary degree from Santa Clara University, Ellacuría eloquently challenged the audience to believe in the power of a university. A university was to build academic excellence and intellectual capacity. These were the vital tools needed to address root problems of oppression. For Ellacuría the overarching goals were based on two fundamentals of Liberation Theology - championing a preferential option for the poor and embracing social justice.

Prophets speak truth to power regardless of the consequence and Ellacuría and his fellow Jesuits knew the dangers of speaking against the military. From 1977-1980 alone, seven Catholic priests were murdered. Over a decade later in 1993, the UN would confirm the assassination of beloved Arch-Bishop Oscar Romero was ordered by Army Major Roberto D’Aubuisson. Yet, Ellacuría’s views were fully absorbed and practiced at his university, Universidad Centroamerica José Simeon Cañas. During the El Salvador civil war the university and the Jesuits became the prophetic voice for the oppressed, the murdered and the poor. It denounced the military and produced studies on the effects of the civil war and poverty on the masses.

In his speech, Ellacuría bore witness to the consequences of challenging the establishment and advocating for the poor. “From 1976 to 1980, our campus was bombed ten times: we have been blocked and raided by military groups and threatened with the termination of all aid. Dozens of students and teachers have had to flee the country in exile; one of our students was shot to death by police who entered the campus. Our history has been that of our nation.”

Last year I had the privilege of hearing Sobrino lecture on the fundamentals of Ellacuría’s vision and pedagogy. It is an exercise in reflection that demands action. The poor and the oppressed are the crucified people. We must ask ourselves. What have I done to put them up there? What am I doing to help them down? For the UCA it meant releasing studies and pointing at structural violence and cycles whose chains never unlinked for the majority of the population. The more it denounced the military the closer it became a target.

On November 16, 1989, when Sobrino was luckily out of the country, armed men entered the Jesuit residence at the University and murdered six Jesuits, the cook, and the cook’s 15 year old daughter. Each Jesuit was shot in the head. It was meant to symbolize the erasing of these Jesuits ideas. Yet the murders would draw international attention and help propagate the message of Ellacuría. That message of speaking truth to power, analyzing root causes of poverty and acting in solidarity with the poor is championed to this day by Sobrino and alive in the hearts, minds and actions of individuals and organizations around the world.

If you are in NJ, I invite you to come celebrate the lives and messages of Ellacuría, Sobrino, and the UCA Jesuits this Sunday on the 20th anniversary commemoration of the El Salvador Martyrs.

8th Floor 89 Market St
Downtown Newark

$ 10 Donation
Speeches, Music and Food

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