Ignatian event marks 25th anniversary of Jesuits' murder in El Salvador

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Over 1,600 representatives from Jesuit institutions and other Catholic organizations joined together for the 17th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice Nov. 15-17 to mark the 25th anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador Nov. 16, 1989.

The Teach-In was hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network -- a national social justice network that works in partnership with Jesuit universities, high schools and parishes along with other Catholic institutions and social justice partners.

Keynote speaker Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, gave participants a brief history of the murder of the Jesuit priests in her Nov. 15 address and explained that the "era of the martyrs in El Salvador" is both very different and not very different then the times we are living in today.

"Life on our beautiful planet is still threatened, though now the planet herself is in crisis," said Dennis. "Violence is still widespread -- though now extremist, criminal and gang violence seems almost unstoppable."

Central America is still dealing with the issue of unaccompanied minors and women with children crossing the border into the United States, said Dennis. Poverty, war, climate change and other problems, she said, are directly related to one another, acting both as the cause and consequence of the other.

"War and unrelenting violence are major contributors to poverty and social dislocation, as well as environmental destruction and climate change," she said.

To fight against violence in countries such as El Salvador, we must counteract it with peace, said Dennis.

The Teach-In's keynote speeches, breakout sessions, policy briefings, reflection time and music gatherings were held Nov. 15 and 16 at a hotel in Crystal City, a Virginia suburb of Washington. The annual event concluded on Capitol Hill Nov. 17, with attendees encouraged to visit their representatives in Congress to urge them to support immigration reform and human rights policies in Central America.

Besides Dennis, other keynote speakers were Michael Lee, a professor of systematic theology at Fordham University, and Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, director of the Jesuits' Radio Progreso in northern Honduras. Also in the lineup were a group of 13 students representing nine institutions across the United States.

The Teach-In also included the national premiere of a documentary called "Blood in the Backyard," which tells the story of the 1989 murders in El Salvador.

Lee spoke Nov. 15 on the topic of liberation theology, which he explained is "a way of seeking God, a way of understanding one's faith confronted by the reality of poverty, locating oneself, taking a stand in that reality and acting in solidarity and commitment to others with that reality."

He also explained when people think about poverty, they must keep in mind that "the death of the poor is against and goes contrary to the will of God."

In his address Nov. 16 Father Moreno shared, through an interpreter, stories of the ongoing violence of human rights in his home country of Honduras.

"Twenty-five years ago they killed our brothers and sisters at the Jesuit University of Central America and 25 years later that horror continues to be present in the horror of bodies torn apart in Honduras," he said.

"Today is the time of Honduras, don't abandon the people of Honduras," he concluded.