written by: Megan McGuire, student at the University of Michigan and parishioner at the Jesuit St. Mary’s Student Parish
Visiting the UCA Memorial Rose Garden was one of the last things we did the day before leaving San Salvador. It was in March that I went to El Salvador on Alternative Spring Break with a group of students from St. Mary’s Student Parish at the University of Michigan. After hearing all of the stories of tragedy, massacre, and heartbreak from that week, I thought my heart had barely anything left to give.
And yet, I entered the room where Celina and Elba were shot. There were couches, their pictures on the wall, and a candle burning in the corner. I felt such a strong connection to them. They were completely innocent women who were supporting this particular group of targeted Jesuits. Celina was only 15 years old. Being a young woman of faith myself, an avid supporter of the Jesuits, and of various social justice issues, I felt the strong sense of having lost a sister and a mother. My already broken heart somehow managed to break even more. And sadly, these women are merely a representation of the thousands of innocent lives lost during El Salvador’s civil war.
As I walked down the hallway where the soldiers must have entered, it was like I could see them. I have rarely ever been able to picture something so vividly. Standing in the garden for the last few seconds, knowing this may be the last time I ever visit this site, all I could think was: this is sacred ground. Almost 25 years ago the Ignatian Family lost six beloved priests and two courageous women on this ground.
And yet, their spirit lives on. Those eight have inspired me in unimaginable ways. They have challenged me to question the status quo and to stand up for what I know is right. As Catholics, one of our core beliefs is in the dignity of every human being. They lived this belief, even until death. I am beyond grateful for their dedication to the oppressed in El Salvador and the legacy they have left behind. I hope to follow in their footsteps as a person of faith who refuses to accept the conditions that the poor of the world still face on a regular basis.
Upon returning home I have often wondered if my grief for the martyrs is justified. I’m not from El Salvador, I wasn’t even alive for most of the civil war, and I’m not a Jesuit. What right do I have to be torn up about this? And even worse, it was soldiers trained in my country who committed this heinous act (among hundreds of others just like it). Who am I to be distraught over this loss?
But then I realized that I am an empathetic, connected, and faithful person who can feel others’ pain simply though the connection of humanity. I don’t have to be a personal friend or family member of these martyrs to feel pain because we are all fighting for the same thing, even today. We are connected in our faith and devotion to human rights; the suffering of a few becomes the suffering of everyone. This is something that these Jesuits so clearly understood, and the current Jesuit priesthood emulates today.
The spirit of those faithful eight will forever remain in my heart, especially as we commemorate 25 years since they gave their lives for the dignity of the Salvadoran people.