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BY FÁTIMA PEÑAOctober 2, 2013

written by: Fátima Peña, Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) ’15, ISN Media Team

This is my first post for the ISN Media Team. As a student at the UCA from El Salvador, I figured that the best way to introduce myself is to give some context about the place I study and the country I live. 

Founding the University – The 1960s

Central American University “José Simeón Cañas” (UCA) was founded September 15th, 1965. The university is the only private university in El Salvador and was established to provide an alternative to studying at the nation’s public University of El Salvador (UES) for graduates of Catholic high schools from the elite class.

According to the UCA website, supporters of establishing the UCA were especially motivated by two reasons beyond their general desires to establish this alternative university. First, aside from the School of Medicine, which was highly regarded, the UES programs of study were considered mediocre at best. Further, the UES was openly considered communist, which was of great concern to the elite class members who provided financial and social support for the establishment of the new university.

Engaging in Social Analysis – the 1970s 

In the 1970’s, the Society of Jesus was becoming very influenced by the ideas of Vatican II. Consequently, some UCA members and teachers were consistently engaging in deep analysis of the difficult political realities facing the people of El Salvador. In those years, the country was governed by army members, so we had a lot of violence and repression of anyone expressing ideas opposing the government.

In 1976, Ignacio Ellacuría wrote an article called “A Sus Ordenes Mi Capital” in which he protested the government failing to implement a land reform. Due to this article, the government didn’t give again any financial support to the UCA and, after that, several times the university campus was bombed. Throughout the 1970’s members the UCA and some Jesuits were more and more being perceived as enemies. In 1977, Rutilio Grande, S.J. was martyred for his work with the people of El Salvador and for vocally denouncing human rights abuses. Other priests and nuns were killed during the years of the civil war.

In general, that was the path that UCA and the Jesuits in El Salvador followed: they needed to fight for faith and justice. That was their commitment, and some of them were killed for it. Ellacuría proposed that the war needed to be ended through dialogue and peace agreements, but army and government members didn’t like his analyses nor those of the other Jesuits. They didn’t like what they used to say, denounce, teach and write, and the fact that they put poor and oppressed people first.

So, several times throughout history, the UCA been a voice for the people. During the Civil War, UCA and Ellacuría served as mediators for dialogue to stop the war. Since then, UCA continues to serve as a voice engaged in the realities of its community and the greater world.

Continuing to Engage – Present

It’s not my idea to give you a history lesson or to make propaganda, but I think it’s important to highlight how important the UCA has been in influencing the history of El Salvador. UCA continues to play a very important role in national issues. Right now the university is very involved in promoting transparency and the access to public information. Furthermore, UCA, in collaboration with other institutions, is working to promote the General Water Law that could guarantee the right to water for all people in the country. UCA is also trying to guarantee that smaller media outlets can have access to the radio and television waves.

While the UCA is not perfect, I am proud of belonging to this school because throughout its history it has tried to fight for what Pedro Arrupe S.J.  proposed in 1974: the fight for faith and especially for justice.

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