Remember the UCA Martyrs: Speak out against violence and poverty

S.T.O.P. crosses on the lawn in front of Camden City Hall, remembering the loss of 54 lives this year.

BY ISN STAFFOctober 23, 2012

written by: Nicholas Napolitano, Assistant for Social Ministries – Maryland, New England, & New York Provinces of the Society of Jesus

November is a time in our Catholic faith when we remember the dead with faith, hope and a sense of God’s active presence in the world.  November is also a time when many Jesuit institutions plan events and gatherings to remember the six Jesuit martyrs and two lay women murdered at the Universidad Centro Americano (UCA) in El Salvador on November 16, 1989.  The UCA martyrs were targeted because they responded to God’s call to stand with the voiceless, the poor and the crucified in our world.  Their research and advocacy on behalf of individuals and communities ravaged by poverty and violence intimately tied with El Salvador’s civil war led to their death.  Jesuits and lay colleagues in communities across the U.S. and world continue to call our attention to these issues in our midst today.  During anniversary gatherings for the martyrs in El Salvador, I invite the Ignatian family to raise awareness about violence and poverty in our own communities, offering a living tribute to the martyrs by adding our voices to their prophetic call for peace and justice.

S.T.O.P. crosses on the lawn in front of Camden City Hall, remembering the loss of 54 lives this year.

S.T.O.P. crosses on the lawn in front of Camden City Hall, remembering the loss of 54 lives this year.

Camden, New Jersey, is one place where prophetic voices are calling out for peace.  Young people from Hopeworks ‘N Camden, a youth education, training, and employment program founded by Fr. Jeff Putthoff, S.J., are leading a community effort to lift up the lives of individuals who were murdered in Camden, 54 so far this year.  Hopeworks members have held vigils in front of Camden City Hall and the Ben Franklin Bridge, used by so many commuters driving

through Camden to Philadelphia.  In memory of lost loved ones, they have planted crosses in the ground at these public spaces bearing the names of those who have died.  The Hopeworks Stop Trauma On People (S.T.O.P.) movement has taken root on Facebook where community members voice their hurt and outrage while finding solidarity and support.

Community members involved in S.T.O.P. continue to ask, “why aren’t more people talking about this crisis in Camden?”  Of the city’s 80,000 residents, 32,000 are living below the federal poverty line.  Unemployment in Camden is 19%.  If NYC had the same murder rate as Camden, residents would be mourning the loss of 5,761 lives.  This stark reality in Camden is mirrored in communities throughout the U.S., just as the response of incredible organizations like Hopeworks are helping to reengage young people and create opportunities for a path out of poverty.  Before we can respond to the needs of people in communities like Camden, we need to acknowledge their presence and have the courage to talk about it.

Echoing the voices of Fathers Ignacio Ellacuria, Amado Lopez, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Segundo Montes and the voices of so many communities across our country and throughout our world who have seen lives cut short by poverty and violence, the Hopeworks community has cried out ‘Presente!’  How much more powerful and prophetic could our efforts to honor the martyrs of El Salvador be if our institutions used it as an opportunity to raise our voices against issues of injustice in our community today?  As we look towards this November, let us consider ways to both remember the UCA martyrs and inspire individuals to speak out, organize, and address injustice in our world today.


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