If one has ever stepped foot into Campus Ministry or has recently walked through the Quad, he or she would likely be able to deduce that something important went down in El Salvador during the 1980s. For most of us, the horrific events of the 12-year Salvadoran civil war and death-squad killings of priests and civilians alike has little or no effect on our lives today. There are tests to be taken, papers to write, and meetings to attend, so events that happened 25 years ago seem to be anything but in our consciousness.
Before attending the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice this past weekend—a conference that commemorate the Jesuit martyrs of the University of Central America (UCA) and seeks to continue their conversations on justice—I could have agreed with this sentiment: sure, it’s a travesty, but why does it really matter in my life? The point is that we all should care. To be global citizens, we all should care about events that shock the consciousness of a people, destroy lives and institutions, and cause fear, regardless of whether they occur halfway around the world or on our own campus.
The martyrdom of the Jesuit priests in November 1989 still has a strong influence today, both within and outside of the Jesuit world. On the surface, this annual act of remembrance could seem like an overdone elegy, if the proper spirit is not embraced. On a macro level, this act of injustice is still relevant today, as it mirrors injustices that are so prevalent in our everyday lives. What got the Jesuits killed was advocating for truth in regard to the Salvadoran poor, the human rights violations perpetrated by the government, and the evils of civil war—this was all contrary to the mindset of the government.
Starting as mere whispers and perhaps growing into more of a murmur, there has recently been a bit more dialogue on Boston College’s campus about the apathy commonly associated with the student body. From stigmas such as the “BC lookaway” to larger concepts such as the lack of student activism around campus, for a Jesuit institution, we as students don’t always do the best job of making it seem like we truly care about global and local injustices—at least once our service trips are over, our reflections have finished, or our classes end. Although BC students are not in the same position of putting their lives on the line to right injustices, it is disrespectful to the memory of the Jesuits and the whole idea of social justice to treat injustice as an abstract concept, and not to act in times of real need.
The martyred Jesuits of the UCA are examples of individuals who put themselves out in the open to be criticized for their beliefs. Even if we do not know much about their story, what we should take away is this: they risked their lives to speak out for change. Co-president of Pax Christi International and a speaker at the Teach In, Marie Dennis remarked, “In the world, we’re called to keep our centers of gravity out there … outside of ourselves.” By maintaining an awareness of the problems that occur daily in the communities, countries, and regions around us, then, and only then, can we start to follow the model of the Jesuit martyrs and truly work to root out injustice.