There was a reason why my study abroad experience in El Salvador with Casa de la Solidaridad began with a trip to see where the Jesuits were murdered. One cannot begin to understand the identity of The Salvadoran people without first knowing the story of the Martyrs.
Though I knew some of their history, it never seemed to truly seep in until I saw their bloodied clothes on display and the ground where they fell that night in 1989. This was my introduction to a crucial piece of Salvadoran culture and one I would come to know through the visions of the Salvadoran people.
During my time in El Salvador, I was fortunate enough to be placed in the community of Jayaque where one Jesuit in particular, Ignacio Martín-Baró,S.J., was an active community member and a true blessing to the town. Padre Nacho, as they called him, spent years giving hope to this community and sharing in their struggle for justice. I saw his spirit alive today in the community in endless ways, but especially manifested in the Martín-Baró Cooperative. This organization devotes itself to the philosophy of the Jesuits and supports the community in a plethora of projects, including aiding youth with their high school and college tuition. These youth involved with the cooperative found strength from Padre Nacho’s teachings and though most of them were not alive to know him in person, they tell his story and remember all that he stood for.
|Kelly Miguens, Gustavo, and Beth Mueller walk in a vigil commemorating the life of Mons. Oscar Romero. Kevin Yonkers-Talz|
One of my most vivid memories that captures the Jesuits’ existing presence in this community was during a weekend I stayed with a host family well connected to the cooperative. The two facts I knew about my host, Don Miguel, before the weekend began were that he was a dear friend of Padre Nacho’s and that he had a house happily full of grandchildren. At the time I was thrilled to know I’d have so many kids to play with but didn’t understand how vital that other fact turned out to be. Don Miguel was not overly conversational at first, yet his aura and character spoke of his years of wisdom and experience. We started with names and simple facts and then I eventually asked him about his friendship with Padre Nacho. In that instant, something in him came alive. He lifted his head slowly to look at me, his eyes glowing and his face carrying a knowing smile as if he had a secret to tell me. From then on, the quiet man I had just met became a story teller of this Jesuit and how he inspired faith and guidance to those who needed it most. These stories continued as we traveled to his house and paused only when we were interrupted by the company of fourteen grandchildren awaiting our arrival.
After dinner that evening, Don Miguel played the guitar while his choir of grandchildren began singing to me, not children’s songs as you might expect, but rather, revolutionary Salvadoran songs that speak of the reality of the country. Each child’s face, ages four to thirteen, looked back at me as they sang about the martyrs and their hopes for a just future. The Jesuits did not preach about forgetting the pain of the past in order to move on and neither did Don Miguel cover up this past reality of their country’s history to his grandchildren or to me. The more important thing was to remember the past and those who fought to make a difference, letting their visions fuel and empower you to keep fighting for all humans to be recognized for their equal dignity. This message from the Jesuits has become a part of Don Miguel’s everyday life, is being passed on to his grandchildren regularly, and they have all graciously passed it on to me.
Experiences similar to this one occurred consistently during my time in El Salvador, and organizations similar to the Martín-Baró Cooperative are keeping hope alive throughout the country. The Salvadorans I met truly embodied the spirit of the Jesuits and their perspectives have all had a deep impact on my life in many ways. They have taught me to remember—remember those who have struggled to let you live as you do today. Take nothing for granted. Let your faith make you strong and do all you can to let justice prevail in our world. It is our calling to follow the philosophy of the martyrs and keep their stories alive for the future.