written by: William Rutt, graduate of Creighton University and Brophy College Prep
The following is a part of a series of reflections from our 25th Anniversary Delegation to El Salvador participants.
For the past 10 years of my life (I am 24, so that is a lot) I have studied, read and talked about the UCA martyrs and El Salvador. The story of the martyrs was the source of my first interest in social justice and has been integral in my continued commitment to social justice. The men that were killed were and still are heroes to me, examples that I look up to that have shaped my spirituality and who I am. All of this happened without ever traveling to El Salvador; until I had the opportunity to participate in the 25th anniversary delegation this week.
This week has been filled with incredible encounters, wether it be through getting to hear one of my favorite theologians Jon Sobrino S.J. speak, staying with the community of Arcatao and hearing their personal experiences of the Salvadorian reality, or talking and getting to know the many incredible people that are a part of this delegation. These experiences have begun to put a face to all of the hours spent in intense conversations and theology courses. Yesterday was especially unique. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the UCA and the site where the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were brutally murdered. Our experience began in the Centro De Monseñor Romero, in a room called the poster room. Lining the walls of the room are all sorts of posters depicting the different martyrs of El Salvador, with a specific focus on Monseñor Romero. Walking through the room I quickly became energized and excited to see so many social justice focused posters. On the table in the back of the poster room were albums of the night and day after that the Jesuits were killed. The photos held nothing back, they were gruesome. They depicted the brutal reality of what happened on that day. As I looked through the photos I became agitated and upset. My stomach began to hurt and I became paralyzed with confusion and sadness. The photos on that table, for me, depicted pure evil. Evil that could not be explained. In response to the photos I wanted to blame someone, but there was no one. In the end those pictures were a perfect manifestation of institutional sin and violence, which we each take part in.
Not knowing what to do with the overwhelming anger, frustration and pain that I was experiencing, we made our way from the poster room to the rose bush garden where the Jesuits were killed. Upon walking into the garden the crucifixion became real. I was standing on the holy ground where each of those six men had given their lives in order to build the kingdom. As I stood there all I could think about was the physical loss and failure that happened on that day almost 25 years ago. The Jesuit’s physical lives and ministries were cut short, in many ways a failure in comparison to what they could have been if they had continued living. This realization was devastating, and in that moment I felt completely helpless.
As I began to look around I quickly realized how utterly beautiful and peaceful the garden was. Looking at the rose bushes (lovingly planted by the husband of Elba and father of Celina), the banners containing small quotes or excerpts from each of the martyrs lives, and all the beautiful plants in the garden I quickly began to see the beauty amidst the desperation. The martyrs were not defeated, they did not lose, they live on in beauty just as the garden that marks where they were killed continues to bring peace and beauty to the lives of each person that walks through it. People all around the world are inspired by the UCA martyrs, over 1000 people from different Jesuit institutions from the United States gather in Washington D.C. each year because of their witness. The way that the martyr’s physical lives were ended was brutal and inhumane, but the spirit resilience and courage of the eight that were killed lives on in us. It lives on stronger than they ever could have imagined, through our commitment as people of faith to continue together as one humanity and community fighting for justice in our communities and throughout the world. That spirit is victory, that spirit is the hope that gives me the strength, energy, and focus to continue on in spite of continued pain and suffering in our world.
My hope and prayer for the rest of this week is that we as a delegation can find concrete, measurable and realistic goals that we can work towards and response to what we have seen and learned. This experience means nothing if we do not take action when we come back to our communities. We are still trying to figure out what that will means for us as a group and how it will look, but I am thankful to have a community of such passionate and driven people to discern with.