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Monday, November 19, 2012

gratitude: jesuit martyrs


This weekend marked the 23rd anniversary of the deaths of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter.  Every anniversary brings nostalgia and gratitude for me.  Nostalgia for events that connected me to the martyrs' legacy and gratitude for their example.  

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests and two women were killed by Salvadoran soldiers, many of whom were trained at the Fort Benning, Georgia based School of the Americas.  They were killed primarily for their work on behalf of poor during the Salvadoran civil war.  They serve as an example to thousands around the world, especially those connected with Jesuit institutions. 

I first learned about the Jesuit martyrs at the School of the Americas protest, held each year in Georgia on the anniversary of the Jesuits' deaths.  The protest itself models a solemn funeral procession in commemoration of the thousands killed by graduates of the School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).  Until a few years ago, the Ignatian Solidarity Network also organized the Ignatian Family Teach-In, a weekend long event hosting various social justice speakers and concluding with a powerful mass that hundreds attended each year.  

It was at the Ignatian Family Teach-In that I first learned about many social justice issues and where my passion for social justice first became connected to my faith.  I also learned about the Jesuit Volunteer Corps here and decided to join after I graduated college.  It was also at the Ignatian Family Teach-In that I began preparation for my college honors thesis in which I painted eight biographical portraits of the Jesuit martyrs and the two women killed with the Jesuits.  My thesis project culminated with an art show on my college campus and has given me the opportunity to teach various groups about the Jesuit martyrs.  

Today I'm sharing two of the eight paintings along with background information on the individuals and information about the paintings themselves.  

Pictured above is Fr. Joaquín López y López, born August 16, 1918, the only native Salvadoran among the six Jesuits killed at the University of Central America.  Fr. López y López, or “Lolo,” although quiet and timid, worked passionately for the people of El Salvador.  Recognizing problems with the Salvadoran education system, Fr. Lolo founded the Fe y Alegria (“Faith and Joy”) organization to strengthen community based education.  Though battling cancer, Fr. Lolo remained loyal to his work at the Fe y Alegria till the end of his life.  Pictures of current Fe y Alegria participants appear in Lolo’s hairline symbolizing the impact of his work for his organization and the people of El Salvador.  To symbolize Fr. Lolo’s calm, unassuming presence, the portrait is painted in blue.  

“If your projects are for 5 years, sow wheat; if they are for 10, plant a tree; but if they are for 100 years, educate a town.” –Fr. Joaquim López y López, S.J. 



Elba and Celina are usually described as the two female companions of the Jesuits or the Jesuits' housekeepers.  In fact, Elba Ramos, born in El Salvador March 5, 1947, worked as the Jesuits' cook and housekeeper and her daughter Celina Ramos, born February 27, 1973, was a high school student.  Elba's husband and Celina's father Obdulio worked at the University of Central America as a guard.  Due to heavy bombing close to their home on the university’s campus, the family asked the Jesuits if Elba and Celina could spend the night with the Jesuit community.  It was due to this request that the women were present at the residence on November 16th and were killed as witnesses to the Jesuits’ murders.  This painting focuses on the innocence of the two women and their shared martyrdom with the Jesuits.  Elba and Celina were among more than 70,000 people killed during the Salvadoran Civil War.  

The Jesuits helped to awaken my passion for painting and taught me what it means to have complete dedication to the cause of the poor.  Just like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I feel that the legacy of the Jesuit martyrs ruined me for life. 

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