On December 2, 1980 four Catholic missionaries serving the missions in El Salvador were abducted, raped and murdered as the country descended into civil war.
Last week on the thirtieth anniversary of the murder of Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Jean Donovan, a 27 year-old Cleveland lay missionary, Catholics gathered in Maryknoll, New York, Washington, DC and San Salvador, El Salvador to remember and pray for these martyred woman. Anniversary Masses were offered for their souls in Catholic Churches from Los Angeles to London and in the little towns of El Salvador where Sisters Dorothy, Maura and Ita and lay missionary Donovan served and at the chapel built at the site where their bodies were found they were remembered by those they served.
The four churchwomen of El Salvador were savagely brutalized and killed for preaching the gospel and teaching people to read and pray. The Maryknoll Sisters as well as the Cleveland Mission Team had gone to El Salvador in response to the Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador call to Sisters for help in a situation of extreme oppression and violence experienced by the Church and the poor in El Salvador. Their deaths, at the hands of members of El Salvador’s National Guard, came during a time of civil war in which people were disappearing and being killed daily. In a haunting letter written shortly before the attack, the Brooklyn-born Sister Ita Ford wrote that she found her "fear of death being challenged constantly as children, lovely young girls, old people are being shot and some cut up with machetes and bodies thrown by the road and people prohibited from burying them. A loving Father must have a new life of unimaginable joy and peace prepared for these precious unknown, uncelebrated martyrs.”
The El Salvador conflict saw some 75,000 of the country's own killed including San Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, shot to death while offering Mass in a hospital in March 1980. Thirty years later we must never forget those who paid the ultimate price for preaching the good news to the poor of El Salvador. These four martyrs Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Lay Missionary Jean Donovan, should remind us of our own obligation to serve the poor and needy. As they have been since the dawn of the Christian Church, the blood of the martyrs in the seed of our Church. Thirty years later in imitation of the four women martyrs we would do well to recall the words of Archbishop Romero: “Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to Himself. This is what Advent, is: Emmanuel, Christ living among us.”