30th Anniversary of the Salvador Martyrs.
“Their departure was seen as disaster” (Wisdom 3:2)
The names of the Salvador martyrs are a litany: the six Jesuits Ignacio Martín-Baró, Amando López, Ignacio Ellacuría, Juan Ramón Moreno, Segundo Montes and Joaquín López y López along with Elba Julia Ramos and her daughter Celina Ramos, murdered at the UCA University of Central America on 16 November 1989, and also Rutilio Grande S.J. (+1977) and St Oscar Romero (+1980) and many others…
On the 30th anniversary of the massacre at the UCA, I feel very blessed to be here in San Salvador with companions, colleagues and friends from when, immediately afterwards, I lived and worked here 1990-1991.
I’m staying in the Jesuit house a few metres from where they were murdered, where they are buried. They dreamed of a vibrant Church committed to accompany the excluded and all those whom this unjust world discards. I believe that their lives and sacrifices have made — have been making — a decisive contribution to justice, reconciliation and peace.
“In the view of the foolish, their departure was seen as disaster” (Wis 3:2), but their sacrifice is not in vain. No martyr’s blood in the long history of our Church has been shed in vain, and today there are more martyrs than in the Roman Empire during the early centuries of Christianity.
Martyrdom is a mystery. For example, the murder of Archbishop Romero tore him out of this world just when he was most needed to defend the harassed and defenceless poor of El Salvador and to urge human rights, non-violence and dialogue.
Or the UCA’s Rector, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, just the man to mediate between government and rebels in the Salvadoran civil war and, about two years later, a negotiated peace agreement was indeed reached, thanks in no small part to the martyrial sacrifice of the UCA eight.
Martyrdom surely always bears its fruits. In the early Christian era, the steadfast courage of the martyrs — men and women, young and old, rich and poor, citizens and slaves — challenged the pagans they witnessed to, made them curious about faith in Christ, led many of them to conversion, eventually obtained acceptance for the Church, put the faith of believers to the test and reconciled sinners with God.
In our own time, the martyrdoms of Rutilio Grande and Archbishop Romero, of the six Jesuits and two women of the UCA, and of many others named and unnamed, contributed imperceptibly and then decisively to reconciliation and to the possibilities of a less authoritarian or oppressive society, continuously if haltingly more democratic and still in difficult progress.
The graces of martyrdom are terribly relevant for our Church of today. Pope Francis wants to relaunch the mission of the Church at the service of mercy, dialogue, reconciliation and care for our common home. He invites the people of God and the clergy — priests, religious brothers and sisters, active Catholics — to live our Christian faith with the radicality and solidarity and above all charity which Jesus so thoroughly embodied: “God is love” (1 John 4: 8,16). Each martyr is one more example and teacher of how to do so.
Martyrs are martyred not by chance, not because a furious tyrant suddenly decides in his madness to put an end to their lives. They are martyrs above all because of the radical way in which they live their lives in the service of the Lord and his Church. Martyrdom is the grace with which God seals and accepts a whole life of often ordinary, hidden commitment, service, and transforms it into the root meaning of the word “martyr”: witness.
So it is for the eight martyrs of the UCA, for Rutilio Grande and for St Oscar Romero, the first canonized martyr of the Salvadoran Church.