In a service marked by sadness, anger and hope, the local religious community observed the first anniversary of the deaths of the six Jesuit priests who were slain a year ago today in El Salvador.
Titled "Martyrs in a Martyred Land," last night's service was held in the chapel of Loyola College, a Jesuit-run school. About 100 people attended.
The Greater Baltimore Interfaith Network on Central America organized the event. Comprising Christian and Jewish religious officials and lay people, the network was founded shortly after the Jesuits' assassinations.
Before the service, about 75 people gathered on the campus of the College of Notre Dame, the Catholic women's school just north of Loyola on North Charles Street, and conducted a silent candlelight march to the chapel.
Six men carried large candles to symbolize the slain Jesuits, who worked on the faculty of the Jose Simeon Canas University of Central America in El Salvador. Two women walked with similar candles, commemorating the Salvadoran housekeeper and her teen-age daughter, who also were shot to death at the university last Nov. 16.
The killers have not yet been brought to justice, though religious officials in El Salvador and the United States suspect that the slayings were ordered by top leaders of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military.
The Salvadoran government and the rebel forces of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front have been engaged in a civil war since 1979. During the previous decade, tens of thousands of civilians were said to have died as a result of the violence. Since 1980, the United States has provided about $4 billion in aid to the government.
At the start of last night's service, the eight people bearing the large candles walked to the altar and placed them there. Then, as a narrator recounted the night of the killings, when the half-dressed priests were forced to lie on a patio and shot in their heads at point-blank range, the candles were snuffed out.
But later, another narrator read each of the names of the eight people and their accomplishments. The people in the chapel, reading their part from the service program, called out "Presente!," the Spanish word for "here, present." The exchange was meant to show that the spirit and works of the eight resonate a year after their deaths.
This year has been one of sad anniversaries for religious people who closely follow events in El Salvador. In addition to last night's service, an observance of the 10th anniversary of the assassination of San Salvadoran Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was held locally last March. Also, the 10th anniversary of the murders of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador will be marked by a service Dec. 1 at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in Bolton Hill.
Said Sister Jean McLoughlin, the campus minister of the College of Notre Dame and an organizer of last night's event: "Between the deaths of the churchwomen and Romero in 1980 and the Jesuits in 1989, there were the deaths of countless poor civilians of El Salvador. We need to remember them as well. And Americans should be made aware that our tax dollars help to support this killing. It's wrong, and it has to stop."