Celebrating the 25th anniversary
Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
November 16, 1989! It is a day which will surely go down in the history of modern world’s struggle for justice and peace. In the early hours of that morning, six Jesuit priests including the rector and vice-rector of the Central American University - the most prestigious university in El Salvador - were brutally murdered along with two other persons. Nobody has ever doubted who was behind this dastardly deed!
Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria (59 yrs), the rector of the university and the superior of the Jesuits there, was a widely respected intellectual, who was not afraid to take on the ruling political dispensation of El Salvador. He was a Spaniard who had adopted Salvadoran citizenship. His outspokenness ensured that he received frequent death threats and just before his assassination he was evenly publicly denounced over the national radio. His companion Ignacio Martin-Baro (50 yrs), the university’s vice-rector was also a Spanish-born Salvadoran citizen. He was the founder-director of the Public Opinion Institute, a think-tank which was highly respected for its documentation and analysis of national and regional affairs.
The other Jesuits who were murdered were Segundo Montes (56 yrs), a Spanish-born sociology professor who did extensive work on Salvadoran refugees in the United States. Amando Lopez (53 yrs), a Spanish-born philosophy professor. Joaquin Lopez y Lopez (71 yrs), a Salvadoran-born who was director of a center for humanitarian assistance affiliated with the university. Juan Ramon Moreno (56 yrs), a Spanish-born who was director of two university-related programs; together with Elba Ramos (42 yrs), their housekeeper and her teenaged daughter Celina Ramos (15 yrs) were also murdered.
The Jesuits were unitedly working together with other civil society leaders to end the bloody civil war which was going on in El Salvador. The cause of the violence was the military junta together with very rich, powerful vested interests; at the receiving end, were the poor and the vulnerable people of El Salvador who were consistently exploited and terrorised by the former.
The Jesuits were inspired and motivated by the ‘faith-justice’ mandate of the Society of Jesus which emerged from the 32nd General Congregation in the mid-seventies. They were convinced of just one thing: they had to take sides with the poor of the country; they had to be a voice for the voiceless, they had to stand up for truth and justice and for that they paid a heavy price indeed!
There were others killed earlier in El Salvador; the most well-known of these martyrs was Archbishop Oscar Romero who was gunned down whilst saying mass on March 24th 1980.
It was common knowledge that Fr. Ellacuria and his companions had a preferential option for the poor. In several ways, they tried to bring that dimension to the university which was entrusted to their care; because of their writings and the fact that they were very vocal, they became a threat to the very powerful around them; but they feared no one except the God they believed in and were convinced that the path they had chosen to accompany the poor, was the only way towards a more just and humane society.
Twenty-five years to date, the only way by which we can surely celebrate the memory of these great martyrs of the faith is to make our own little pledge to stand up for truth and to work for justice; and in doing so, let us try to internalise the words of Ellacuria “the struggle against injustice and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one independent of the other.”
16th November, 2014
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for human rights, justice and peace)