The Gates of Fort Benning – SOA 2012We remember martyrs so we can face the future…
These are the words I jotted down in my notebook last night as I heard Kevin Burke, a Jesuit Priest, talk about the witness of the martyrs of El Salvador to a group of faculty, staff, and students at Loyola. He said these words, or something very much like them, and I thought to myself, “Wow, that sounds good!”
However, the lived reality is so much harder to understand and LIVE.
First a story, and then some thoughts about the story of the martyrs.
So this summer, two of my aunts died. First it was Helen and then a month later, Elsie. Elsie was related to me by blood. She was my grandfather’s sister, and Helen was her companion for many, many years. Both in their 90’s, Elsie and Helen spent their lives building a home together. I remember when I was young, Elsie would cook and bake delicious food. Her blueberry pie has remained at the top of my list ever since I was a kid. Helen, a little more quiet, and unassuming, enjoyed working in the yard. Even in her 70’s and 80’s she raked leaves and shoveled snow! Elsie and Helen watched the birds and animals in their back yard, they went to church on Sunday, and throughout my entire childhood, they traveled all over the place together. They brought back little gifts, and I enjoyed looking at their pictures when they returned. When I got older, and started traveling myself, I made sure to show them some of my pictures, and share the journey with them.
Elsie and Helen were tough cookies and had large hearts. They brought joy into every room that they walked into, and I always got the sense, that the simplicity of their life together, was something I would look for within my own life too. But even though I know what a good, simple, loving life could look like from their example, I still want them back in my life. It is hard to face the future when memories of what once was….or who was with us, is no longer.
So how do we face the future when our reality has changed?
In March of 1980, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated Archbishop Oscar Romero as he presided at Mass at a small cancer hospital in El Salvador.
In December of 1980, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated four churchwomen, returning from the airport in El Salvador.
In November of 1989, graduates of the School of the Americas assassinated six Jesuit priests and two women who they shared their residence with in El Salvador.
These three clips articulate the violent ending of life. They also demonstrate the ruthless, destructive power of US funded military force at the hands of human beings.
However, what these three moments do not articulate, are the lives of these people!
When faced with the future, we must focus on life.
For those of us who have been returning to Fort Benning year after year, the lives of the martyrs, are held up as a testament of strength. Many of us know about the conversion process that Romero went through before he became “The voice of the voiceless”. We can tell you the stories of Maura, Dorothy, Ita, and Jean, because we’ve watched documentaries and read their letters as signs of joy and struggle. And we can show you just how courageous the Jesuits were, through their writing and work in the community, because today, we still honor their death and hold up the people they left behind. Their lives continue to mean something here and now, even when violence that brought death, tried to silence their memory.
We remember the lives of martyrs so that we can face the future and continue the journey of building a better, more just world.
When I return to Fort Benning every year, I remember the lives of individuals who were killed at the hands of SOA graduates. I also remember the lives of those who have survived. Afterall, it is LIFE, in all its fullness, that threatens the very nature of violence. It is LIFE, which fills our whole self with possibility. And it is LIFE, that I remember when I sing PRESENTE! And so, when I hold up my cross at the SOA vigil, I am saying YES to LIFE and I am holding possibility in my heart. I am saying YES to WHO the martyrs are, right here and now, because their story gets to the heart of things. And I am saying YES to being there in the first place, even when the journey is long, and the memories are painful, because that transformation helps me know more of WHO I AM.
We are the ones who continue the journey of building a better, more just world.
My own truth tells me that the lives and the stories of the martyrs live on within me. I know that the lives and stories of Elsie and Helen live on within me too. And together, I remember WHO they were so that I might live a life that is authentic, and relevant, and just.