Remembering 1989 martyrs of El Salvador

This week we remember the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, who were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador on 16 November 1989.

The Jesuits were Ignacio Ellacuría, the Rector of the University of Central America (UCA) and an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA's human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno and Armando López; and the founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor, Joaquín López y López. Also murdered were Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their 16-year-old daughter Celina, to ensure that there would be no witnesses. Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran among the murdered Jesuits: the others were all originally from Spain.

The Jesuits were murdered because they refused to stop voicing concerns over the atrocities of human rights violations being committed by the government and for constantly advocating for the poor. They were all taken from their beds during the night by a death-squad. Some were killed in their rooms while others were dragged outside and killed. They were all severely beaten before they were murdered, the Jesuits had their brains torn out of their skulls and the women were also raped.

Their murder marked a turning point in the Salvadoran civil war and led to increased international pressures on the Salvadoran government to sign peace agreements with the guerrilla organization FMLN.

Last year, nine former Salvadoran soldiers turned themselves in to face charges: they had been indicted in Spain under its universal jurisdiction law, which holds that some crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere. However, human rights groups say they hold out little hope that the Salvadoran Supreme Court will extradite them to Spain. The man accused of ordering the killings, Gen Rene Emilio Ponce, died in May 2011.

The following prayer has been composed by the Arrupe Group at Heythrop College, University of London:

May the courageous example of Fr Ignacio Ellacuríathe, his martyred Jesuit companions and their colleagues, continue to inspire all of us to work for the coming of God's Kingdom of justice, love and peace in human history; and to strive in all that we do for an end to all poverty and injustice, violence and exploitation. We ask this through Christ, our Lord and King.




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