Witnesses of Hope and Accompaniment in El Salvador:
Thirteen CSSJs and Associates Visit El Salvador for the 35th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the North American Churchwomen
From November 28-December 5, thirteen Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates were part of a delegation of 117 women religious and supporters who traveled to El Salvador for the 35th anniversary of martyrdom of four U.S. missionaries who were assassinated by the Salvadoran military for their advocacy on behalf of refugees and the poor. Thirteen CSSJ sisters and associates came from the Baden, Boston, Carondelet/St. Louis, Concordia, Rochester, and Philadelphia congregations. In addition, they were privileged to meet Elena Jaramillo, CSJ/Orange, who has lived and ministered among the Salvadoran people for decades. The delegation was sponsored by SHARE El Salvador and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
After 35 years, justice continues to be sought for the murders of the four U.S. churchwomen, women, and thousands of Salvadorans killed during the war. During the week, the delegation visited sites and heard first-hand testimonies by people who knew these women. The group met with grassroots movement leaders, human rights defenders, and mothers of the disappeared. The delegation also explored root causes of migration to
the U.S., learned of current challenges impoverished communities face, including increasing violence, and witnessed ways in which grass roots groups are organizing to build a better future.
It was heart wrenching and awe inspiring to spend a morning at the Monument to Truth and Memory in a central San Salvador park. The monument lists the names of more than 30,000 victims of El Salvador’s civil war. At the site of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s martyrdom on March 24, 1980, the delegation sat in the chapel, listened to a sisters share the story of his assassination, surrounded the altar in silent prayer, and visited his humble living space. The group also visited the garden at the University of Central America where six Jesuit priest scholars, their housekeeper, and her daughter were martyred in the pre-dawn hours of November 16, 1989.
December 2, 2015, marked the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Ursuline Sister, Dorothy Kazel, Maryknoll Sisters, Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, and Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Jean Donovan. At the parish on the site of their martyrdom, the delegation joined with parishioners in a liturgy to celebrate these women as “Witnesses of Hope”. The Prayers of the Faithful captured the essence of the celebration praying, “O God… We lift our voices and we beg, for the Salvadoran people, above all the poor. May God accompany them in their struggle to form a society based on justice for every person. We pray for the people of [this] parish…a place sanctified with the blood of the martyrs, that God continue walking among them sowing seeds of faith and hope.” This sense of accompaniment and hope for the future marked every step of this journey. For Sisters of St. Joseph and Associates, it was a profound experience of relationship at the heart of mission.
The site of their martyrdom and the tree under which their bodies were found was officially declared a Historical Site by the El Salvadoran Ministry of External Relations. This action ensures that their memory will remain alive for future generations.
In the village of Nueva Esperanza, Elena Jaramillo, CSJ/Orange, commented, “I have found life here, life in abundance.” She spoke of the letters she receives asking, “Is it safe?” and continued, “When someone is in the family is sick, is it better to stay away? No!” Elena challenged all to take a look at why they wanted to come and see if the reasons are still valid. “It’s hard here,” she said, “but that does not give me reason to abandon my community. I’m here because I feel I can offer a little support to many people. Being afraid is no reason to stay away.” She ended by challenging everyone, “…to take a deep look at El Salvador, at what El Salvador can do to you.”
Throughout the week there were countless moments of walking with the people as the group processed on roads to various places, listened with full hearts to the stories of their survival, and attended press conferences calling for ongoing action in the quest for truth, justice, and reparation for cases that are still unsolved. Grass roots groups of women, youth, and local community activists shared how they continue to organize ways to move forward and build a better El Salvador for themselves and their children. These groups, in turn, support dozens of other groups building a web of solidarity throughout El Salvador.
SHARE connected the group with women and children who taught the delegation about the Salvadoran’s determination, ability to organize, and desire for accompaniment in building a world that is more life-giving, full of justice, and full of hope.
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Thirty-five years ago on December 2, 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay volunteer Jean Donovan were martyred in El Salvador where they were living and working with the most vulnerable Salvadoran communities, especially children orphaned by the violence of the war.
In the aftermath of their death, hundreds of women religious and lay women volunteered to take their place accompanying the people of El Salvador. Over the last three decades, women religious have stood with the people of El Salvador through war, natural disaster, and social and economic crises. Their congregations continue to provide material aid for the reconstruction of El Salvador, to support women’s projects around the country, and to fight for immigrant rights throughout the region and in the United States.
SHARE El Salvador: SHARE is a 35-year-old organization which strengthens solidarity with and among the Salvadoran people in El Salvador and the U.S. in the struggle for economic sustainability, justice, and human and civil rights. SHARE’s work includes binational projects and programming in El Salvador and the U.S. guided by core values of: women’s empowerment, citizen participation, leadership development and environmental sustainability. Learn more at www.share-elsalvador.org.
LCWR: The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is an association of the leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has nearly 1400 members, who represent more than 80 percent of the 51,600 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, the conference assists its members to collaboratively carry out their
service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.