Anniversary of the San Salvador Martyrs
On 16 November 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were assassinated on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, as ordered by the country’s High Command. Fr Michael Czerny S.J. was among those who took up the mission of his murdered companions. Here is his reflection, addressed primarily to fellow Jesuits, to share today with the UCA and other friends remembering Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López, Segundo Montes, Joaquín López y López, Elba Julia Ramos and Celina Ramos.
According to Pope Francis, Archbishop Oscar Romero, an earlier (26 March 1980) victim of assassins, “gave up worldly security and even his personal safety, in order to dedicate his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to — indeed magnetized by — Jesus and his brothers and sisters.” The occasion was the Holy Mass on Sunday 14 October 2018 canonizing Romero, Pope Paul VI and five others, which I had the joy of concelebrating. This joyful canonization perfectly frames our celebration today of the 29th anniversary of the martyrdom of our six fellow Jesuits and their two collaborators.
The martyrdom of Monseñor Romero had a huge impact on our brothers, the future martyrs; it inspired them deeply. Less than a year after his assassination, the University of Central America (UCA) published a selection of his homilies under the title Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements (English edition in 1985). The sub-title in Spanish is The living word of Archbishop Romero.
This was the first extensive and accurate publication about the martyred bishop. There are introductory essays by Jon Sobrino and by Ignacio Martín-Baró, one of the martyred Jesuits whom today we commemorate; the latter’s essay boldly contextualized the assassination of Archbishop Romero.
This closeness of Saint Oscar Romero to our martyrs was made most evident when in 1985 the UCA posthumously awarded him a Doctorate Honoris Causa in theology, under the rectorship of Ignacio Ellacuría, another of the martyrs we honour today. On that occasion, Fr. Ellacuría revealed that his intention had been to confer the doctorate while the Archbishop was still alive. However, paraphrasing the Gospel, he acknowledged that “the children of darkness, being more cunning than the children of light, have acted far too quickly.”
I arrived at the UCA in early 1990, soon after the murder of our companions. In March we were marching to mark the tenth anniversary of Archbishop Romero’s assassination, and on a poster here and there along the route one could read, We want bishops like Monseñor Romero. This wish has now been vindicated, this prophecy fulfilled, in last month’s canonization.
Two weeks after the canonization, at a Solemn Mass of thanksgiving, Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez, auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, highlighted the universal character of the sanctity and martyrdom of Monseñor Romero, and in another sense of ‘universal’, he affirmed that this saint is the saint of those who loved him, but also of those who hated him.
On the same occasion, the archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor José Luis Escobar Alas, was very right to apologize publicly “in the name of that part of the Catholic Church of our country that mistreated, abandoned and defamed him during the war, including his and my brother bishops who also mistreated him in life and even after his death.” The current archbishop likewise acknowledged and thanked those who always stood by Monseñor Romero, referring explicitly to Monseñor Arturo Rivera y Damas, his immediate successor, and to the Society of Jesus – represented to a large extent no doubt by our companion martyrs of the UCA whom we celebrate today.
Let us thank God for how close Saint Romero of the Americas was with our martyrs of the UCA, whom he so inspired. Let us ask for the same “magnetization” by Jesus and closeness to the poor. Let us not forget to pray, with the intercession of all of them, for our beloved Pope Francis and for the whole Society of Jesus.