It has been 25 years since the massacre in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter—an event that left the entire world reeling. At the time, El Salvador was in the midst of a bloody civil war that left more than 70,000 people dead at the hands of Salvadoran government forces and death squads.
The Jesuits, teaching and performing missionary work, were caught in the crossfire on Nov. 16, 1989. In the 25 years since, Boston College has gone to great lengths to remain in solidarity with those killed.
“The Jesuits were living the gospel and imitating Christ, who did the same for his people and instructed them to pass it on to succeeding generations,” said Campus Minister Rev. Donald MacMillan, S.J., in an interview with The BC Chronicle. “We espouse the religious history not only of the United States but of our neighbors throughout Central America.”
While the world was left in shock in the wake of the event, none was hit harder than Jesuit communities around the world.
“This event touches the hearts and souls of the Jesuit community and its colleagues at Boston College,” MacMillan said. “These were our brothers and educational partners who were in solidarity with their colleagues at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), raising their voices for human rights and justice.”
While teaching at the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador, the Jesuits were met with strong opposition from various political forces. The Jesuits had a strong presence in the region, voicing ardent opposition to the civil war and the Salvadoran regime, and lobbying for peace. The massacre was a turning point in the civil war, putting international pressure on the Salvadoran government to come to a peaceful resolution with the guerilla organizations.
BC was one of several Jesuit institutions that led a charge in responding to and remembering the fallen Jesuits and the thousands of victims of the civil war. MacMillan was one of the initial leaders of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ), a social justice conference that was originally held in Georgia, but has since moved to Washington, D.C. The IFTJ draws students and faculty from BC and other Jesuit universities, as well as high schools and parishes from 25 states, Canada, and Mexico. Working with the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the IFTJ and its participants hope to effect positive social change on a global level. This year there will also be a rally on Capitol Hill today, with protestors advocating issues related to human rights in Central America, as well as immigration reform and climate change.
On BC’s campus, University ministry groups are best known for honoring the victims of the massacre by erecting crosses on the Quad in front of Lyons Hall. They were erected during the annual commemorative mass that is held in the Quad, and will remain standing until the end of the month. MacMillan said that the white crosses are not just to honor the fallen victims, but also to stand as a reminder that worldwide social justice is still a work in progress.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the massacre, O’Neill Library is host to an exhibit titled “One Night in November.” Curated by MacMillan and Michael Burke, A&S ’18, the exhibit is comprised of two cases, one dedicated to the historical aspect of the event and the other to the responses of the BC community. It is meant to challenge viewers to reflect on the event and to dig deeper into the historical and political implications the massacre caused.
“I hope viewers will read up on the causes of that civil war and understand that the call of the gospel left these Jesuits no other choice but to be voices for the voiceless,” MacMillan said. “It cost them their lives, but the call to justice has been raised and is still being voiced today.”
The historical portion of the exhibit consists of several books—including autobiographies of some of the priests—and personal photographs from the trips of then-University president Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J, to El Salvador in the wake of the massacre. Monan, now the University Chancellor, sought to guide the Jesuit community’s responses to the murders and encouraged Congress to seek justice for the killings. The other case is full of relevant articles from The Heights written about the University’s and community’s responses over the years.
“This exhibit is a small token of reverence for these martyrs, meant to spark an interest in the hearts and minds of students, as well as faculty, administration and staff, to search for ways to establish peace, equality and unconditional love with our neighbors on the same continent,” MacMillan said.
The school is also hosting an appearance by Carolyn Forche, a poet, activist, and faculty member at Georgetown University. She will be presenting “A Poet’s Journey from El Salvador to 2014: Witness in the Light of Conscience” on Nov. 19 in the Heights room of Corcoran Commons, according to the Office of News and Public Affairs.
The annual masses, the exhibit, the speeches, and white crosses honor the Jesuit priests in light of the killing, but the ultimate message that is left behind is much greater than that, according to MacMillan.
“I hope we all become or remain aware that the struggle continues—not only in El Salvador but in every land,” he said. “Seeking peace and having faith that does justice honors these martyrs.”
Featured Image by Emily Sadeghian / Heights Editor