University Ministry will host a day-long commemoration event honoring six Jesuit priests on the 20th anniversary of their death. They were murdered by the Salvadoran army for promoting social justice during El Salvador’s Civil War. The “Stand 4 Conference,” taking place on Monday, Nov. 16, is a tribute to the six Jesuit martyrs, their cook and her daughter, along with the 70,000 Salvadorans killed during the 12-year war that began in 1980.
Paul McWilliams, director of music and liturgy at University Ministry (UM), said, “It’s not just the Jesuit Martyrs, but an awareness about what happened in El Salvador.”
The civil war was a collision of the rising tension between El Salvador’s military-controlled government and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), a left-wing organization comprised of five militias. The United States financially supported the military government, which in turn killed thousands and displaced over a million people to maintain political control. The Archbishop Oscar Romero was also killed a month after asking the U.S. to discontinue their military aid.
University President Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J., has invited the USF community to take part in the scheduled events. The deaths are “very personal” to Rev. Privett, said Kique Bazan, director of social justice and community action at UM, because Rev. Privett knew the six Jesuit priests. During Rev. Privett’s speech, “A Reflection on Ignatian Spirituality,” he will elaborate on the importance of spirituality and “bear his heart in the context that he can,” Bazan said.
However, Bazan said he looks forward to the Mass of Commemoration in St. Ignatius Church, to observe what Rev. Privett has to say in connection with the killings.
If students are unable to attend the entire conference, McWilliams highly recommends that students go to keynote speaker Kevin Burke’s speech at the church, the third scheduled event. Burke is the academic dean at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, and “one of the most interesting people,” McWilliams said. Burke is an expert on the theology of Ignacio Ellacuria, former president of the University of Central America, also killed by the Salvadoran army in 1989, who has “always lived with the poor and knew them as human beings,” Bazan said.
The 6 p.m. candlelight vigil will be the highlight of the events. It will include a procession from St. Ignatius Church to Lone Mountain and the white crosses that represent the victims of the war that were displayed in Harney Plaza will be relocated to the Martin-Baro garden on Lone Mountain. A small service to remember the Jesuit Martyrs will then take place, McWilliams said.
Freshman Londi Diaz-Jimenez said, “It’s great that USF is acknowledging the civil war.” Diaz-Jimenez said her father was sought out by the military government during the civil war; the military even came into her family’s home unexpectedly to take her father hostage. Soldiers often took people who were suspected rebels to be tortured or killed. In worst cases, people simply “disappeared” and were never seen or heard from again.
Although Diaz-Jimenez is hesitant to attend anything in connection with her father’s past, she said, “A part of me does want to go because it might be enlightening.”
The conference will also host three workshops in the afternoon, centered around lobbying and advocacy, “very practical for people that want to know how they can make a difference,” Bazan said. The workshops will elaborate on the Central American Resource Center’s efforts to mobilize services for Salvadoran refugees, since there were none when the founders of the organization migrated to the U.S. Bazan said 20 years after the war, there is still a need to cope with the aftermath and El Salvador’s growing gang population.
The Performing Arts Department is also sponsoring a reading of the bilingual (English/Spanish) play, “Wounds of the Izote,” based on testimonies of gang members and gang intervention workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and El Salvador.
McWilliams said the commemoration is important for USF to honor because “it’s very much part of the mission of the university and the social justice we’re trying to do from [the University Ministry] office.”