When I was in College, Jesuits were martyred in El Salvador. A large number of Jesuit Presidents of colleges and universities travelled down in a show of solidarity to El Salvador. When they returned, they were quite different men.

Fr. Joseph O’Hare, S.J. told me later that year that the Jesuits would never leave El Salvador. That they’d “have guys lined up around the block” to go serve there. And that the Jesuits would never be the same after this horror. I think that was spot on. Dean Brackley, recently deceased, recounted the event on the 20th anniversary of their deaths.

In the early hours of 16 November 1989, US-trained commandos of the Salvadoran armed forces entered the campus of the Jesuits’ university, the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA), and brutally murdered the six Jesuits, together with two women who were sleeping in a parlour attached to their residence. The Jesuits were: the university rector Ignacio Ellacuría, 59, an internationally known philosopher; Segundo Montes, 56, head of the Sociology Department and the UCA’s human rights institute; Ignacio Martín-Baró, 44, the pioneering social psychologist who headed the Psychology Department and the polling institute; theology professors Juan Ramón Moreno, 56, and Armando López, 53; and Joaquín López y López, 71, founding head of the Fe y Alegría network of schools for the poor. Joaquín was the only native Salvadoran, the others having arrived long before from Spain as young seminarians. Julia Elba Ramos, the wife of a caretaker at the UCA, and their daughter Celina, 16, were eliminated to ensure that there would be no witnesses. Ironically, the women had sought refuge from the noise of gunfire near their cottage on the edge of the campus. Julia Elba cooked for the Jesuit seminarians living near the UCA.

This was one crime in a long series that included the martyrdom of Rutilio Grande SJ in 1977, and those of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero and the four US missionaries: Jean Donovan, Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel and Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, in 1980. They all mixed their blood with that of tens of thousands of lesser-known civilian victims of El Salvador’s civil war of 1981 to 1992, which moved the world with its extremes of cruelty and of heroic generosity.

Today let us recall these men and women…people who I consider saints…people who died for their faith and their belief that God shows a preferential option for the poor. May their lives continue to rise up in the Salvadorian people and remind us to be a voice for the voiceless.

Through the intercession of St. Ignatius of Loyola may God grant them pardon and peace and be a comfort to their families.

And let us pray that peace will prevail in El Salvador and in places that are torn by war and oppression.