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El Salvador Martyrs Remembered

In 1980 El Salvador was gripped by 12-year civil war.  Over 75,000 people were 'disappeared' or killed. Among the murders: Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American churchwomen, including two Maryknoll Sisters.

On December 2nd, 1980 four American churchwomen, and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missioner Jean Donovan , were abducted by members of the Salvadoran National Guard, viciously abused and killed. Their deaths sparked a nationwide movement in the United States in solidarity with the people of El Salvador, who suffered terrible repression that lasted for another decade.  

While traveling the country with the Maryknoll Sisters World Awareness Team, Maura Clarke had once said, "I see in this work a channel for awakening real concern for the victims of injustice in today's world, a means to work for change, and to share deep concern for the sufferings of the poor and marginated, the non-persons of our human family."

The day before her death, Ita Ford quoted the country's spiritual leader Archbishop Oscar Romero at a ceremony in Nicaragua, saying: "Christ invites us not to fear persecution because, believe me, brothers and sisters, the one who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive -- and to be found dead."

1980 was a particularly violent year for El Salvador. Earlier, in March, Archbishop Romero himself had been shot dead while conducting mass at the funeral of a friend’s mother.  His assassin escaped in the hubbub and has never been found.  

The day before his death, Romero appealed directly to members of the military, calling on them to refuse illegal orders: "We are your people. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear the voice of the man commanding you to kill, remember instead the voice of God. Thou Shalt Not Kill ... In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people whose cries rise up to heaven, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you, stop the repression."

In 2002, PBS ran a documentary program Justice and the Generals about attempts to bring El Salvador's military commanders to trial in the United States.

Read Remembering the Martyrs 30 Years Later at

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