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Remembering the martyrs

Written by Mike Thee
November 10, 2009

This Nov. 16 marks the 20th anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The eight martyrs were killed, execution-style, by the Salvadoran army for speaking out against injustices in the country.

“For these last 20 years Seattle University, along with our sister Jesuit universities, has been at the forefront of solidarity with the Salvadorans to bring about a lasting peace and a just resolution,” Rector Pat Howell, wrote to the campus last month.

For the 20th anniversary, SU will continue and add to the traditions it has established to remember the martyrs. Here’s a look at some of the events planned.

“Celebration of Hope” will be held at 12:05 p.m. on Nov. 12 in the Chapel of St. Ignatius. Perhaps the most moving part of this annual mass is the “die-in,” which recounts the murder of the eight martyrs. While each victim is remembered, members of SU’s Arrupe Jesuit community lay on the altar. Seán Bray, social justice minister in Campus Ministry, says this will be the final year the reenactment will be done in this form. A new way of remembering the martyrs will be developed next year.

As is the custom, the mass will end with a blessing upon the delegation of 19 students and staff who are traveling to Fort Benning to protest the School of Americas (S.O.A.), which has long been criticized for its role in training Central American police and military officers linked to human rights violations. Also receiving a blessing at this year’s mass will be a second delegation of 14 faculty, staff, Jesuits, students and alumni who will travel to the University of Central America in El Salvador at which the murders occurred for a special commemoration of the 20th anniversary.

A panel discussion, followed by a procession to the chapel, will be held on the actual day of the anniversary (Nov. 16, 7 p.m., LeRoux Conference Center). Panelists will include President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., and Gary Chamberlain, professor emeritus of theology and religious studies.

Chamberlain, Bray says, “has really been the driving force behind helping to educate students about the School of the Americas and its connection to the martyrs,” and facilitating their efforts to oppose the school. “A lot is owed to Gary,” says Bray. “He has done so much around this issue.”

Asked for his thoughts on why 20 years later, SU students continue to be inspired by the martyrs and take up their work on issues like S.O.A., Bray says this: “When we talk about a faith that does justice, I believe our students are hungering for role models. They’re looking for examples whose vocations call them to better the world. These Jesuits and the work they were engaged in with the marginalized and the oppressed are those great examples.”