The legacy of The Martyrs we have experienced here in The United States goes much deeper than what we see at first glance. The legacy of their witness has become part of the landscape of The Ignatian conscience, just as the commemorative crosses in front of Mission Santa Clara de Asis have become part of our landscape at Santa Clara University. It is appropriate that we share a common spiritual heritage with these martyrs from El Salvador, with Ignatius at the helm.
At the same time, we are reminded that the legacy is not of the select few at the Universidad de Centroamérica, but of a nation’s people in the throes of war. Now, as we strive to be women and men who are truly with and for others, we live in the example of the martyrs and the tradition from which they acted.
The martyrs who died in El Salvador were activists—people who grounded themselves in the reality of the margins and became companions of the poor. They came from myriad walks of life, from housekeepers to doctors, priests to lay people. “Lolo,” as they called Joaquín López y López, the only native Salvadoran in the Jesuit community massacred in 1989, was a catechist in poor neighborhoods, trying to do what he could to educate his people. Some made their statements by participating in public actions against the repressive government, while others used their prophetic voices through their pens and the radio. They walked with others in the reality of a broken country.
The selflessness, faithfulness, and courage of the Salvadoran martyrs have inspired thousands of people. We often focus on the negative aspects of the USA/El Salvador connection, such as the former School of the Americas in Columbus, Ga., a taxpayer-supported military school directly connected to countless murders and massacres in El Salvador. However, we also choose to focus on the positive connections that have endured,
The selflessness, faithfulness, and courage of the Salvadoran martyrs have inspired thousands of people....Positive connections have endured, including many religious orders and the Jesuits, in particular, that have moved people to respond to these and other injustices from a place of faith and groundedness.
including many religious orders and the Jesuits, in particular, that have moved people to respond to these and other injustices from a place of faith and groundedness. One such response is the Ignatian Solidarity Network-sponsored Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ), which has become “the largest meeting place of individuals from U.S. Jesuit-affiliated institutions.” Now the IFTJ takes on a different flavor as it broadens its scope. It “has evolved into an inspiring educational event not only about the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador, but about civil war and institutional violence in all parts of the world.”
In the past, the IFTJ has been held in Georgia, but this November marks the last year it will be held there, as it strives to address issues beyond El Salvador. The theme will be “Presente: Where have we been present, where are we present now, and where will we be present in the future?” Simply by traveling to Georgia with a desire for justice, the participants make this theme a reality. Throughout the weekend they hear from others who are working for justice and peace in concrete ways. The speakers introduce participants to an issue and then call them to some form of action around that issue. There is no lack of work being done “for the greater glory of God” at Jesuit institutions. This teach-in is a testament to that. From fair trade to human trafficking, the passion of students, guided by mentors living and dead, helps to kindle passion in others. As part of the Ignatian family, we are not living in the legacy of the martyrs alone, but in that of the faith that we and they profess. It is fitting that the IFTJ ends with a Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, the source and summit of all we do.
As activists, we need a home—a place to which we return, a place where we are known and loved, and a solid ground from which we act. Thomas Merton, paraphrasing Douglas Steere, says, “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork.” When one does not have a home to return to, this self-violence Merton describes insidiously takes over. Activism requires us to soundly discern and rootedly respond to injustice.
Opportunities offered by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, such as the IFTJ, help provide this home for so many people. They beg the question of what it looks like for us, as people of faith, rooted in Ignatian values, to be active agents of change in an unjust world. The ways in which this question is experienced and lived out are unquantifiable and extremely varied. As the Spirit moved the Salvadoran martyrs to respond to the oppression facing the masses of El Salvador, so it moves us to faithfully walk in their footsteps as we discern and address the injustices that most threaten human dignity.