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All Things Jesuit

Holy Witnesses

November 24, 2014

Following is the homily Rector Tom Lucas, S.J., delivered on the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuits and their companions in El Salvador. Father Lucas, S.J., spoke of his recent visit with Pope Francis and how the pope calls us to be witnesses like the eight martyrs.

Life, my sisters and brothers, is full of surprises. Through a series of events too complicated-I might even say "too miraculous"-to recount in a short time, on November 3, I found myself with a family of friends and benefactors of Seattle University and of our Archdiocese, sitting with Pope Francis in his library at the Vatican. Miracles do happen. 

Our Holy Father Francis is in fact everything you have seen and heard about him:  warm, engaging, humble, delightfully good-humored, radiant in his faith and hope. It was like sitting with a sweet and loving old pastor. He wanted to know about us, and about our world here in the Northwest. He had on worn black shoes, the simple silver cross he had worn in Buenos Aires around his neck, and had a frayed button on his white cassock. He must drive his staff crazy. 

At the end of what was supposed to be a 15-minute meet-and-greet audience that he himself extended to 45 minutes of vivid conversation, one of our group asked him what message he wanted us to bring home with us. Counting on his fingers, he gave us five reminders to hold onto, five descriptors of what it means to be Church in this moment of history. I want to share them with you today, because he asked us to share them. I also need to hear them again myself, to be consoled and challenged by them. 

Testimonianza:  Witness

Vicinanza: Nearness to those in need, to the poor

Incarzione: Incarnation

Ospedale di Campo:  The Church as Field Hospital

Misericordia: Mercy 

The first word was "testimonanza," witness. Words are fine, he said, but active witness is what matters: witness through our lived and living actions to the saving power of Christ in this broken world. 

Our witness is lived out in his second word "vicinanza," nearness, closeness. We cannot give witness to Christ in abstraction, but only in our direct and loving contact with others, and especially in our care for the poor and our nearness to the afflicted.  

He reminded us that this is how the incarnation, "incarnazione," continues in this world: Christ is incarnate again and always in us, made flesh in deeds more than in words. Christ's life and reality are transmitted in us and through us, made flesh again here at this altar, truly, but also and equally in our witness and in our loving respect and embrace of all God's children.  

The Church, the Holy Father reminded us, is not a spa to which we retreat for comfort, but is a "field hospital," a place of healing for those most hurting, most excluded, most in need. The Good Samaritan, he reminded us, didn't ask the man in the ditch to see his identity papers. He climbed into the ditch and pulled the suffering man out, and cared for him.  

Why? Because the Good Samaritan knew the grace and power of "misericordia," of mercy. God's infinite compassion for us, poor banished children of Eve, is the key to everything. God's mercy is the hope that gives meaning to our lives, and makes it possible for us do what is impossible: to continue the work of the incarnation, to be close to those who are in need, to give witness. The Holy Father calls this moment in the history of the Church "The Era of Mercy," and invited us to be its heralds. 

Today, Nov. 16, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the killing-no, the martyrdom-of six Jesuits and two of their colleagues at the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador. The Jesuits were teachers, theologians, founders of schools, pastors, and two women their house keeper and her 16 year old daughter. They were dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night and shot in the garden. They were martyrs-the word means "witnesses"-because they testified to Christ incarnate in the poor, because they were near to the afflicted. They made their university a field hospital, a place where God's mercy was taught and God's justice was proclaimed. Like the good steward in today's Gospel, they took the treasure given them and multiplied in works of mercy and justice. Like so many holy witnesses throughout history, they paid the price, giving glory to God through the gift of their lives, through their faithfulness to God through their care for God's least little ones. 

Fathers Ignacio Ellacuría, Sergio Montes, Ignacio Martín Baró, Armando López, Juan Ramón Moreno, Joaquin López y López, their coworkers Elba and Celina Ramos. None of us, we pray, will be required to shed our blood as they did, as Archbishop Oscar Romero did when he was gunned down at the altar in 1980, as American Churchwomen Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Jean Donovan and Dorothy Kazel who were tortured, raped and murdered a few months afterward Romero's execution. Yet the willing sacrifice of their lives and of so many others throughout our history gives witness to us of the nearness of Jesus Incarnate to the poor and the suffering: the same Christ who gives us courage to be merciful caregivers in the field hospital that is our Church today. 

As we were leaving, Pope Francis asked us to pray for him, and so we do today. And let us be mindful of his solemn yet joyful call, to be witnesses to, and to become God's mercy here and now, and always and forever.