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October 2009 Vol 48 no 4


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Michael Campbell-Johnston

‘C-J’ knew all those who died in the killings at the University of Central America. This commemorative issue begins by reprinting an article that he wrote in the immediate aftermath of their deaths, in an attempt to respond to the question ‘Why?’

Pamela Hussey

A year after the martyrs died, an open-air Mass was celebrated in El Salvador in their memory, attended by over 5,000 people. Pamela Hussey, who at the time worked for the Catholic Institute for International Relations, was there and describes how their legacy was felt at that time.

Clare Dixon

Through her work at CAFOD (the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) Clare Dixon has had a close connection with the countries of Central America for many years. After her most recent visit she uses the anniversary to ask how the martyrs’ witness can help those who would engage in a contemporary social apostolate in El Salvador and elsewhere.

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Simone Lindorfer

One of those who was killed in El Salvador, Ignacio Martín-Baró, had developed a critique of current psychological methods from the perspective of liberation theology. Simone Lindorfer, who has worked with trauma victims in Africa, shows how this understanding has proved useful in a range of extreme conditions.

Nicholas King

Nicholas King is part-way through a translation of the whole of the Greek Christian scriptures. He is thus in an excellent position to consider the ways in which the Bible presents the idea of martyrdom, in particular in the New Testament.

The Minds of the Martyrs

The Roman Catholic martyrs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England and Wales were killed by other Christians who were equally passionate in their beliefs. In the From the Ignatian Tradition strand of this issue we present contemporary reflections upon their situation from a variety of perspectives.

Damian Howard

One reason that the concept of martyrdom is currently in the news is because of the way it is being used, rightly or wrongly, to describe the actions of a small group of radicalised Muslims. Damian Howard, who has just completed doctoral studies in Islamic thought, here outlines some of the variety of ways in which Islam has considered its martyrs.

Hüseyin Cicek

The French literary theorist René Girard developed a theory of 'scapegoating' that attempts to explain the origins of much human violence, including that which leads to martyrdom. Hüseyin Cicek’s article uses these ideas to consider the differences between the ways in which martyrdom is understood in the three Abrahamic faiths.

Michael Kirwan

Martyrdom is perhaps most often thought of in church circles in purely religious terms—the fact that this is a death occasioned by a faith stance is, after all, what distinguishes the martyr from others who die violent deaths. Here Michael Kirwan argues that, nevertheless, 'Martyrdom is perhaps the most fundamental form of Christian political engagement’.

Paul Dominic

In 2008 Christians in Orissa, India, found themselves under attack from their Hindu neighbours, and many were killed. The Indian Jesuit Paul Dominic was in Guyana when he heard of these deaths, and offers a reflection on their significance.

Paul Nicholson

It can at first sight seem that religions which profess peace as an important value often end up in conflict between themselves. Here Paul Nicholson presents the work of two authors who attempt to explain why this should be so

From the Foreword

BY 1989 THE CENTRAL AMERICAN STATE of El Salvador had been split by civil war for a decade. A right-wing government, backed by the United States, was under attack from the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front), a coalition of left-wing militias. Throughout the war, one group that had been particularly targeted was those priests who, influenced by the ‘preferential option for the poor’ that was a key tenet of liberation theology, had stood alongside the impoverished majority of the population. The killing of the Jesuit Rutilio Grande in 1977 provoked the then Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, into abandoning his previous conservative stance and speaking out strongly against government oppression. His own assassination, three years later, did much to bring the struggles of his country to international attention.

Then, on the night of 16 November 1989, six Jesuits working at the University of Central America, as well as their housekeeper and her daughter, were taken from their beds by armed men and shot, their bodies left in the garden of their residence. They had already been the subject of threats and were well aware of the danger they were in. Later investigations concluded that the killers were members of the Salvadorean army. These eight deaths were part of a series of events that led the United States to reconsider its support of the El Salvador government. A peace process, supported by the United Nations, began. In January 1992 the El Salvador civil war came to an end. It is estimated that by then over 70,000 had died as a result of the war.

This issue of The Way marks the twentieth anniversary of the deaths of the El Salvador martyrs. The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, held in 1974, had committed the Society to that ‘service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement’. It was because they were dedicated to working for justice in this way, alongside the poor of El Salvador, that the Jesuits were killed; thus their deaths bear witness to Christian faith as it was being expressed in a particular time and place. Marking this anniversary offers an opportunity to consider the wider question of martyrdom, a category currently controversial in so far as it is claimed by, or assigned to, suicide bombers and ‘freedom fighters’ across the globe.

Paul Nicholson SJ



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