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JCU honors Jesuit martyrs

November 19th, 2009

Twenty years ago on Nov. 16, at the University of Central America in El Salvador, six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter were dragged out of their home by Salvadoran military soldiers and assassinated.

John Carroll University, along with other Jesuit institutes and even the United States and El Salvadorian government, are remembering these tragic deaths.

Priests, Ignacio Ellacuria, 59, Ignacio Martin-Baro, 44,  Segundo Montes, 56, Amando Lopez, 53, Juan Ramon Moreno, 56, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, 71, Julia Elba Ramos, 42 and Celina Mariset, 16 were murdered for their dedication to social justice, educating the Salvadoran people, and mission to advance the lives of the poor.

JCU senior Theresa Prabucki spent a semester in El Salvador, and described her experiences at the place where the priests and women spent their last moments.

“The rose garden at the University of Central America was planted in commemoration of the six Jesuits that were killed, their housekeeper Elba, and her daughter, Celina.”

“I spent a good amount of time there during my semester in El Salvador; I would often go there to think and just get away. The space is sacred, and you can’t stand on that ground without thinking about what happened there,” said Prabucki.

This anniversary is not going unnoticed as both the United States Congress and El Salvadoran president honor the lives of these men and women.

The U.S. Congress approved a resolution honoring “these eight spiritual, courageous and generous priests, educators and laywomen.”

The resolution cited that, “this crime served as a catalyst for negotiations and contributed to the signing of the 1992 peace accords, which have allowed the government and the people of El Salvador to progress significantly in creating and strengthening democratic, political, economic and social institutions.”

Along with the U.S., the Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes declared, in November, that the priests would receive the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado awards, which is the country’s highest honor, on the date of the assassination.

Chris Kerr, coordinator of social justice programming at JCU, reflected how this tragic event changed Jesuit thinking, especially at Jesuit institutions.

“The assassination of the Jesuits in 1980 was an event to push people working at Jesuit universities to consider issues of social justice more deeply, and look at the deeply marginalized and how their education is,” said Kerr.

John Carroll is holding a weeklong vigil of events remembering these Jesuits and women, which started on Saturday night at the 10 p.m. mass.

At mass 21 students were commissioned, before they traveled to Georgia to attend a protest at the former School of the Americas, which trains Latin American soldiers.

The protest will be comprised of students from Jesuit universities and high schools from all over the U.S., who will call for the institution to stop training Latin American soldiers like the ones that killed the Jesuit priests and women.

“I feel empowered because they spoke out for the poor, and when I go there I can’t wait to fulfill that call they had twenty years ago,” said Amanda Chu, a JCU freshmen who is participating in the 2010 summer immersion trip to El Salvador.

After mass on Sunday, students were allowed to hang wooden crosses on the fence setup on the quad, which represented a victim of human rights abuses in Latin America.

“I stood tonight for hours… I watched.  Students wandered by in the cold winds of November, safe and carefree.  I watched the pictures of those martyred professors.  They are my masters and my models.

Their blood enriches and sanctifies our University,” said Rev. Francis Ryan, S.J.

Rev. Kevin Burke, S.J., president of the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., will be on campus giving a talk entitled “The Jesuit Martyrs Of El Salvador: Reflection On The 20th Anniversary.”

Sponsored by the Institute of Catholic Studies and Department of Sociology & Criminology, Rev. Burke will be speaking on Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the LSC Conference Room.

Kerr commented on just how significant this event is to the John Carroll community.

“Without the martyrs, I bet we won’t have 15 immersion experiences with hundreds of students participating. We recognize that we must challenge the beliefs of corrupt governments and the status quo of the poor.”