Cardinal Czerny remembers martyrdom of Jesuits in El Salvador

By Benedetta Capelli, 18 November 2021
A composite image of the El Salvador martyrs. Images: Ignatian Solidarity Network.


In a letter 32 years after the killing of six priests and their housekeeper and daughter on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, Cardinal Michael Czerny remembers their sacrifice and stresses that the Church must reach out to those suffering, listening to the poor and always reforming to improve its outreach.

Three wooden memorials are planted at the site of martyrdom that bloom and become a sign of resurrection. This is the image that Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, proposed in his letter on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of the murders on 16 November 1989.

The crime took place on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador, when six Jesuits – Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, rector of UCA, philosopher and theologian; Ignacio Martín-Baró; Segundo Montes; Amando López; Joaquín López y López; Juan Ramón Moreno Pardo; and collaborator Elba Julia Ramos together with her daughter Celina Ramos – were killed.

Signs of hope in the Church

Cardinal Czerny underscored that Tuesday’s celebration “is set in an ecclesial and national context full of political disenchantment and worrying signs around the world” but at the same time there are “signs of hope in the Church” such as the forthcoming beatification of Father Rutilio Grande, on 22 January 2022, along with Manuel Solórzano, and the young Nelson Lemus.

They were murdered together on 12 March 1977 between Aguilares and El Paisnal. The Cardinal also recalled the beatification of Father Cosme Spessotto, “a Franciscan Friar Minor, of Italian nationality, assassinated in 1980 in the church of San Juan Nonualco,” where he had been a parish priest for 27 years.

Cardinal Czerny noted that the repression around Aguilares was so “brutal” that it prevented the possibility of any monument to his memory except in the years to come with the three wooden pieces found that the Cardinal saw when he went to pray in that place.

Friendship in the Lord

“The assassination of Rutilio Grande,” Cardinal Czerny wrote, “was of fundamental importance to St. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, then archbishop of San Salvador, who spent much of the night vigil before Rutilio’s corpse,” as theirs was “a long friendship in the Lord”.

But his murder also shocked the martyrs being remembered today. “They were deeply moved by the events of Aguilares and some of them drew closer to the poor, more committed.”

“Rutilio,” said the Cardinal, “was an assiduous frequenter of the UCA university residence”, had a “playful and endearing style” so much so that he affectionately called the Jesuits “the masters of Israel”.

The martyrdom of Rutilio Grande and Romero “confirmed our Jesuit brothers in the faith,” said Cardinal Czerny. “Among the 53 Jesuit saints, 34 are martyrs, and among the 152 blessed, there are 145 martyrs. Then there are 10 ‘venerable’ and 162 ‘servants of God’, 116 of whom are martyrs.”

The difficult life of the poor

The anniversary offers an opportunity to take stock of the situation in El Salvador where, Cardinal Czerny drew attention to “the serious deterioration of the lives of the poor,” “affected by the pandemic and by misery,” the high cost of living, the impossibility of adequate nourishment, environmental degradation and also “the weakening of political institutions.”

He noted that these are realities already highlighted by UCA research and editorials, also aiming to find good solutions through policies and practice.

Church of the peripheries

Thirty-two years after the martyrdom of the Jesuits, one cannot help but think of the upcoming opening of the Synod on the theme: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.”

Cardinal Czerny wrote in his letter, “From the vocation of the Church, expressed in Lumen Gentium, and from her synodal journey arise evangelization, human promotion in all its forms and care for our common home”.

With this perspective, “the Church is assisted by decentralizing and moving toward the peripheries.”

“The Church must walk together, carrying the weight of the human condition, listening to the cry of the poor, reforming always and its actions,” listening first of all to the voice of the “anawim,” a term indicating “the humble poor” mentioned 21 times in the Old Testament, who have always been “at the center of Jesus’ public ministry.”

With thanks to Vatican News and Benedetta Capelli, where this article originally appeared.


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