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The Houses That Eight Bullets Built

I’m not going to lie—I felt a little like I was missing out when it came to studying abroad (and not just because I missed the Welcome Mass), but I got over it in a big way. Allow me to explain.

Many of you who read this blog on a constant basis are well aware of SCU’s Casa de la Solidaridad study abroad program in El Salvador, a unique experience that blends four aspects of Community, Academics, Spirituality, and Accompaniment. The entire experience gives those who participate in it a view of the world that they would not otherwise get to witness. However, not many are familiar with the history of the program, and a little backstory is necessary in this month of November as we commemorate the eight martyrs of the University of Central America.

When Ignacio Ellacuria and his companions were murdered in 1989, their killers had no idea what the aftereffects of the bloodshed would be. Over the last 25 years, people from across the world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have committed themselves to lives of pursuing justice based on the testimony of these peoples’ lives and deaths. One product of their shared demise was the very Casa program that I spoke of earlier, founded by a Jesuit, Dean Brackley, who had volunteered to work at UCA in the wake of the shooting, and Kevin and Trena Yonkers-Talz, a young couple committed to the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis (care for the whole person). Over the years, their program churned out hundreds of well-formed graduates who have gone on to law, medicine, social work, and academia—with all of these vocations formed and flavored by their time in El Salvador.

As time passed, the Casa model became so popular that other universities looked into launching their own similar program, and thus was born the University of San Francisco’s Casa Bayanihan in the Philippines, a program that I long anticipated applying for and was overjoyed when I finally got accepted. As of writing this, I’m still in the Philippines, and every day learning to appreciate the gifts that this country and program have to offer to me, and that I have to offer to them. Now comes the “missing out” part that I referenced earlier. While I love the time that I’ve spent out here at Casa, I cannot help but feel oddly detached from the commemoration for the martyrs in El Salvador and back at Santa Clara. And why not? Theirs is a world on the other side of the world, so of course there would be distance between us over in the Philippines and the heritage of the martyrs of Central America.

This feeling of being “left out” as far as commemorating Ellacuria and company was concerned lasted about five seconds before I gave some consideration and began smiling. “They had no idea what they did” I said to myself, thinking of the military’s foolish action to murder these voices for justice. The murder of the UCA scholars didn’t just lead to the pursuit of greater justice in Central America, but across the world. By not commemorating the martyrs outwardly, but keeping them in my mind during this month of November—I’ve realized once again in a new way that the pursuit of justice is truly a worldwide issue. We all draw our strength in this conflict from a variety of sources, and these sources ought not be limited to the country where justice is concerned. I’ve realized that the true scope of the UCA martyrs’ death is tied up to my being here in the Philippines. We would not be here right now, working towards a more just world, were it not for the outcry of justice that came from that massacre so long ago.

What could be more fitting a legacy for these martyrs who, in the words of Ellacuria at SCU, worked “on behalf of a people who, oppressed by structural injustices, struggle for their self-determination—people often without liberty or human rights” than working for those very causes on the other side of the world? Justice is global, we must never forget, and the legacy of the martyrs truly goes beyond El Salvador and the US.

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