On Tues., Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. in the Oak Room of the Barone Campus Center, Fairfield University will kick off a week of events centered on the 25th Anniversary of the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador with a keynote lecture by noted Nicaraguan liberation theologian, Fr. Fernando Cardenal, SJ, entitled, “Witness In Blood: What the Martyrs of El Salvador Teach Us.” Organized by a group of students, staff and faculty that cut across academic departments, student life, campus ministry and the Jesuit community, the planning committee sought a variety of ways to reach out the University community to honor the six Jesuits, along with their housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 15 year-old daughter Celina Ramos, who were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador in 1989.
“The events came together as a real team effort among many people and departments at the university, said Jocelyn Collen, campus minister for International Immersion Trips and Social Justice and a Fairfield University alumna. “Several undergraduates from the Students for Social Justice Club were a part of the committee as well, and the collaboration has been fun and uplifting.”
For years, Fr. Fernando Cardenal, SJ, the week’s keynote speaker, has been a champion for the oppressed in his native country Nicaragua. Fr. Cardenal saw his commitment to the poor, particularly the children, informing his entire life’s work as a Jesuit and ultimately leading him into politics. Active in the political party named Sandinista Front for National Liberation, Cardenal worked nonviolently to support the defeat of the Somoza regime. In the mid-1980s, he was appointed minister of education. Fr. Cardenal’s appointment came during a time when Pope John Paul II insisted that priests not serve in public office, later codified in canon law. Fr. Cardenal had to choose between an opportunity as minister of education to dramatically impact those living in poverty and marginalized in Nicaragua and the Society of Jesus. He decided to leave the Jesuits and stay in government to continue his fight for the Nicaraguan people. His education campaign raised the nation’s literacy rate from 49% to 87%. Eventually, Fr. Cardenal left government and was welcomed back into the Society of Jesus. To this day, he is the only Jesuit to ever leave the Society and later return.
The series of events honoring the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador continue on Wednesday and Thursday on campus with a panel presentation celebrating Salvadoran life and culture and a prayer service. “We wanted to remember the martyrs in a few ways – not just with one lecture or prayer service”, added Collen, who will among the Fairfield alumni and employees who will share individual experiences of living and working in El Salvador through the panel. “We thought it beneficial to have them share what it was like to be an undergraduate living in El Salvador. We wanted to have an event that celebrates Salvadoran culture and life, and provides students with a chance to taste Salvadoran food as well!”
While many events around the 25th Anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador will focus on important issues such as war, violence, martyrdom, and injustice, Fairfield University hopes not only to educate its community about what happened in 1989 but to tell the story of who the martyrs were, what they believed in, and shine some light on the current justice issues in El Salvador and Central America.