The Jesuit martyrs: 25th anniversary

This Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter at the University of Central America by members of the El Salvadoran military. It happened November 16, 1989.

The Jesuit website, Jesuits.org, offers an excellent two-part article this week on the event. Part one is here and part two is here.

Author William Bole identifies the murders as “one of the most glaring and brazen human-rights crimes of the late 20th century.” He opens by describing the event:

In the predawn hours of November 16, 1989, an elite battalion of El Salvador’s military forced its way into the Jesuit residence at the University of Central America, or UCA. The university, led by its president, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, had become a stronghold of opposition to human rights abuses committed by the U.S.-backed military.

On that night, soldiers dragged five priests out of their beds and into a courtyard, made them lay facedown on the grass, and fired bullets into their heads. They went back inside and killed another Jesuit. Then, searching the residence further, they found a housekeeper and her teenage daughter crouching in the corner of a bedroom, holding each other. The gunmen shot them too.

Boles helps us understand who the victims were and who their killers were. He explores the roots of the killings and their fallout, both in terms of government policy and Jesuit ministry.

The second article includes a moving account of a telephone conversation between El Salvadoran President Alfredo Christiani and Jesuit Superior General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, just after the killings. Christiani — who knew his military was responsible for the deaths, but had publicly blamed leftist rebels immediately — told Kolvenbach, “Father, I hope that this sorry situation won’t lead you to withdraw the Jesuits from El Salvador.” Kolvenbach replied to the president, “Mr. President, you don’t understand. We asked for six volunteers to take the places” of those priests murdered at the University of Central America, “and more than 100 Jesuits asked to be sent.”

The articles are worth the time it takes to read through carefully in full.

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