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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Companions of Jesus

In Latin America so many are martyrs, but the Church will never officially proclaim all of them as martyrs, just as there are many who are saints, but few of them will be proclaimed so by the Church. Monsignor Romero will probably have to represent all the martyrs in Latin America. As he was a pastor, this will be a fitting responsibility and task. - Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ

It's the thirty year anniversary of Óscar Romero's death but I don't want to write about him, but instead want to just mention some others also killed in Latin America .... Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel OSU, Ita Ford MM, Maura Clarke MM, Rutilio Grande García SJ, Alfonso Navarro, Ernesto Barrera, Octavio Ortiz, Rafael Palacios, Napoleón Macías, Ignacio Martín-Baró SJ, Joaquín López y López SJ, Juan Ramón Moreno SJ, Segundo Montes SJ, Amando López SJ, Ignacio Ellacuría SJ, Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter Celina Meredith Ramos ..... and to post this past article by Peter Hans Kolvenbach SJ ....

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The Gospel's Reality

I remember receiving a message in the afternoon about the murders of the Jesuits in El Salvador. I will never forget that afternoon. I was very deeply shocked. I prayed, but I also had to act immediately. I went to the Holy See because we knew the names of other people who were on the list to be killed by the military, and it was absolutely necessary to bring diplomatic forces to bear to avoid further killings.

The night the six Jesuits were killed, the guerrillas were practically taking over the city; the army felt it had to take extreme, radical measures. One of the measures was to shell their own people, and another was to erase, as they put it, the leadership of the guerrillas. The Jesuits did not belong to the guerrillas, but for years and years they worked as an intellectual group to promote justice in El Salvador and to help the poor to come out of their misery. That was sufficient for the military to consider them as very dangerous. Also, the Jesuits had a lot of contacts with the guerrillas inside and outside El Salvador and were constantly in contact with El Salvador's president and governmental ministers. They wanted to bring both sides to an agreement. But the army considered this very dangerous as well -- mediators are sometimes more difficult people to deal with than radicals.

This was the reason that they were killed. It was a little amazing that the Jesuits, who knew that their lives were at stake, did not see that this would happen. They knew everything about the situation in the country; they were frequently on radio and TV as analysts of the situation; but they did not foresee at all, even though they were very near to the military headquarters, that this would happen. The murderers came like thieves in the night.

I have to say that I was not surprised at the murders. But I really believe that if we look back on this story, we will see that the source, the motivation, the strength of everything that happened was not politics, nor was it ideology; it was really the living gospel. Here were people who took the gospel of our Lord as reality and, like the Lord, spoke up to defend the poor. It was not at all out of political or ideological reasons that they acted; they had become aware that you cannot call yourself Christian without sharing Christs preference for the poor.

I visited them a few months before they were murdered, and we shared a lot with one another. I told them what I had been asked repeatedly by the parents of students at the Jesuit schools in Latin America: Father, why are the Jesuits of today not like the Jesuits of the past? So many of them today are Communist or leftist. So I brought up this matter to the Jesuits at the University of Central America (UCA) during a meeting. When I said, It seems that all of you are Marxists or Communists, they all smiled. Fr. Ellacuría said, Do you believe that we'd give our lives for Marx and his theories? We are companions of Jesus; that's the mystery of our life.

They knew what could happen, but they accepted this as what it means to be companions of Jesus, living the paschal mystery with Jesus. When we spoke about whether it would be better for them to leave the country, they said to me, Did you leave Lebanon during the civil war? No, you didn't. It is not our spirituality to abandon the people just because the situation becomes difficult or even dangerous.

And it was a dangerous time in Latin America. The murder of Jesuit Fr. Rutilio Grande in 1977 was an early message that the establishment would not accept the Church taking up the cause of the poor, becoming the voice of the voiceless. And when Monsignor Romero, who committed himself to the poor at the funeral of Fr. Grande, was killed in 1980, this was once more a message that there would be no restriction, no limitation in this war between the establishment on one side and the Church and the poor on the other.

The murders of the Jesuits was the last act, in a way. It had an impact on the national and international level, compelling everybody, all sides, to come together. The murders of these martyrs was the beginning of the peace process, a reconciliation that is, though fragile, real.

In Latin America so many are martyrs, but the Church will never officially proclaim all of them as martyrs, just as there are many who are saints, but few of them will be proclaimed so by the Church. Monsignor Romero will probably have to represent all the martyrs in Latin America. As he was a pastor, this will be a fitting responsibility and task.

But we should never forget that the martyrs of Latin America are not like other martyrs in the history of the Church. In the beginning of the Church, martyrs were the victims of pagan emperors. In our times, in Communist countries, they were murdered by atheists. The drama in Latin America is that the martyrs are tortured by fellow Christians. They become martyrs at the hands of people who call themselves, believe themselves to be Christians.

But no matter at whose hands martyrs die, martyrdom retains its meaning: giving your life for another. It means not only making the other your neighbor, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan, not only giving things to another, but giving yourself even to the point of giving the most you can give, your lifefor others, exactly what the Lord himself did.

In the situation of the murders of the Jesuits, the result is exceptional; we could see with our own eyes that something good came out of these martyrdoms: they brought peace and reconciliation to El Salvador.

The murders resulted in an important development for the Society of Jesus itself. There has been quite a lot of tension among the Jesuits during its long tradition of education and its creation of so many high schools, colleges, and universities. There are Jesuits who complain that these schools favor the rich, the elite. There are other Jesuits who answer, Yes, but these are the leaders in the future, and it is not a matter of indifference how they are educated. Those who feel that the elite are being served will smile and say, We have no hope whatsoever that these young people will ever transform the world. Give this all up.

Now, Fr. Ellacuría and his companions were university professors; UCA committed itself to the poor so much so that even today the poor consider UCA as theirs, even if they will never study there. The murdered Jesuits at UCA showed the Society that it is possible for a Jesuit to continue the Societys tradition of education but to do it in a way that promotes justice and expresses a loving, preferential option for the poor. We are grateful for the gift that these Jesuits have given us by their sacrifice.

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