Twenty five years ago today, December 2, 1980, four North American churchwomen were killed by U.S.-trained and funded death squads in El Salvador. I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news. I was a senior at Duke University, with plans to enter the Jesuits the following year. I bent down to pick up the Durham Morning Herald, and was shocked by the headline: “Four Churchwomen Killed in El Salvador.” Their bodies had been found in a shallow, unmarked grave in a barren countryside not far from the San Salvador airport.
The deaths of these four women changed my life. They gave me--and thousands of church people around the country--new strength and courage to stand up against U.S. warmaking. Three of them were nuns--Sister Ita Ford, a Maryknoll nun who spent years in Chile; Sister Maura Clarke, a Maryknoll nun who spent years in Nicaragua; and Sister Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun from Cleveland who worked in El Salvador. The fourth woman, Jean Donovan, was not a nun. She had volunteered to go to El Salvador through a church mission program in Cleveland.
The article ends this way:
Twenty five years later, El Salvador has become Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Colombia, indeed, the whole world. Not long ago, some Pentagon general announced that the United States was now using the same strategy it employed in El Salvador on Iraq. In El Salvador, we helped to kill some 75,000 people, including Archbishop Romero, the four churchwomen and the six Jesuits. We trained the death squads at the School of the Americas. We supported the torture and rape of thousands. We rewarded the generals, the junta, and the handful of millionaires who stole the nation’s resources. Instead of repenting of the evils it did in El Salvador--and so many other places--our government is now intent on turning the rest of the world into the killing fields of El Salvador. It could care less about the innocent lives lost in El Salvador, Iraq or anywhere else.
But I take heart in the life and example of Jean Donovan and the other churchwomen. They renounced First World greed and nationalism, entered the world of the marginalized and destitute, shared their powerlessness and pain, stood up in their defense and gave their lives in loving solidarity for them.
In these dark times, Jean and the church women inspire us to stand up in solidarity with the victims of our government and its wars, regardless of the consequences to ourselves, and to give our lives so that some day, the killing will stop.
I've lost hope that one day the killing will stop. I gave up that fantasy long ago. But if there's a faithful remnant - a group of people no matter how small - who bear witness against the killing, then there is hope that those who choose not to lose their souls by participating in the killing will have the strength they need to keep going. And that is enough.