Today marks the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of four U.S. church women who were assassinated in El Salvador on December 2, 1980. Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan: two Maryknoll sisters, one Ursuline nun, and a young lay person.
Today, 35 years later, we live in a very different world, where the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are joined together. Nearly 200 nations are gathered in Paris to address the urgent concerns of global warming and climate justice. What they decide there will determine in no small measure the future of the planet. Global warming is creating extreme weather events, severe droughts and flooding, rising sea levels and melting glaciers, and disrupting access to food and water for millions of people, and creating extreme violence in Sudan and Syria.
Today, 35 years later, 12 million Syrians – half the population of their country – are displaced from their homes, and four million are fleeing to distant lands and as far as Europe, seeking refuge. They risk their lives on sea and on land, and have been greeted with both generosity and with hatred. The same fears and threats hurled at European Jewish refugees seeking to escape Nazi extermination 75 years ago is being hurled at Syrian Muslim refugees today, in both Europe and the United States.
The challenges we face today are different from the challenges we faced 35 years ago when the four church women died. They call for new perspectives and new structures, new vision and new social movements to adequately respond to the need for justice for present and future generations.
Still, the witness of the four church women continues to speak to us today. For you who remember them, and remember that day, it has been a long journey, walking with the poor of Central America and Mexico on new paths yet to be forged. The passage from John’s Gospel comes to mind: “Unless a seed fall to earth and die, it will bear no fruit; but if it die, how great the fruit!”
Throughout these years, you have kept the memory of the martyrs alive, and have asked: What do they require of us today?
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