When I entered the Jesuits in the early 1980s, the Jesuits in the United States were getting desperate letters from the Jesuits of El Salvador, begging the U.S. Jesuits to do what we could to cut all U.S. military aid to El Salvador, because as you know, during the 1980s, in El Salvador, 75,000 people were killed by a brutal military regime funded by our government. Archbishop Oscar Romero, 18 priests, four U.S. churchwomen, and thousands of catechists were killed. They killed church workers because the church was speaking out prophetically against poverty, violence and war.
In 1985, I was sent to El Salvador to work with the Jesuits for a while in a refugee camp run by the Archdiocese of San Salvador, and I visited the famous Jesuits at the Jesuit University in San Salvador, the UCA. The president of the university was a great Jesuit theologian and philosopher named Ignacio Ellacuria. We went to meet him and he said to me, “The purpose of the Jesuit University in El Salvador is promote the reign of God.” I was amazed at this because I couldn’t imagine any university president in the U.S. saying their purpose was to promote God’s reign. But then he said, “We have learned that you can no longer be for the reign of God unless you are also publicly, actively against the anti-reign. You cannot say you are going to do good in your life unless you also stand up against evil. You cannot say you are for peace unless you publicly actively against war. So we’re against hunger, poverty, the death squads, the Salvadoran government and military, U.S. military aid, and the violence of the revolutionaries and everyone is mad at us and everyone wants to kill us.” I was so impressed by him and the other Jesuits. To me they were like Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They had a big dinner for us and they showed us how their little house was full of bullet holes from the times when the government death squads came by and shot at them. They were averaging about a dozen death threats a week, for the seven years previous to our visit. Their house had been bombed 21 times.
As you remember, fourteen years ago this week, on November 16, 1989, 28 soldiers, 19 of them trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, showed up in the middle of the night, dragged the six Jesuit priests out of their house, forced them to lay down on the ground in their pajamas, put machine guns to their heads and assassinated them. And then, the soldiers removed their brains and put them next to their bodies, the message to Latin America being, “This is what you get if you THINK about reality.” The massacre of the Jesuits was headline news around the world, and forced the U.S. to cancel its immoral military aid, push for a ceasefire and led to the end of the war. It was a powerful experience to know personally great martyrs of the church, who gave their lives following Jesus, speaking out against violence, denouncing the anti-reign and announcing God’s reign of justice and peace.
This week, to mark the anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs, some 15,000 people of faith and conscience from all over the country, including a hundred priests and nuns, are going to Georgia, to the School of the Americas, to call for its closing, because there, the U.S. has trained over 60,000 death squad soldiers from all over Latin America. Thousands of people will pray, vigil and even cross the line and get arrested to protest this U.S. terrorist training camp, one of over 125 that the U.S. operates around the world. I have been arrested there twice for crossing the line, to stand up in the name of my martyred Jesuit brothers. (For info, see, www.soaw.org )
I want us to know about this because this is the work of the Gospel; this is what Jesus would be doing if he were here. He was always proclaiming God’s reign, denouncing the anti-reign, and today, we hear how he entered the Temple, turned over the tables of the money changers, in an act of peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience, an act which cost him his life because of his passion for justice.
This is what the Jesuits of El Salvador were doing, what people are going to be doing in Georgia, and this is what we must all do also, because we too are his followers. I hear the Gospel challenging us to get involved in the world, as best we can, beginning locally, but to stand with those struggling for justice around the world; to take action, to make the world better, to be like Jesus, not passive or complacent or apathetic, but zealous for God and God’s reign and God’s justice, willing to take a stand regardless of the cost, because like Jesus, we too trust in resurrection.
So this is my prayer:
May we always be zealous for God and God’s reign. May we always be involved with our church and our community, and join the global nonviolent struggle for justice and peace, and do our part to help make the world a better place.
May we be passionate for justice like Jesus, and always stand for what is right, and give our lives as he did, doing good, resisting evil, and helping one another and everyone to live in peace. May we all lend our voices to the closing of the School of the Americas, as well as the Pentagon and Los Alamos and Kirkland and all places of violence and killing.
And may we always know that, like Jesus, that we have nothing to fear, that our survival is guaranteed, that like the saints and martyrs, we too are headed for resurrection. Amen.