Over 1,500 people from Jesuit universities, high schools, parishes, and other Catholic organizations gathered in Washington, D.C. this past weekend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuits and two of their companions in El Salvador, as well as to engage in dialogue about how to live out “a faith that does justice.” Students, pastors, lay activists, religious men and women, and others committed to social justice came together to learn, reflect, network, and advocate at the 10th annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice (IFTJ).
The theme of this year’s IFTJ was “Uprooting Injustice, Sowing Truth, Witnessing Transformation,” with an emphasis on remembering the Salvadoran martyrs. In a powerful opening reflection, which
included naming all eight martyrs, the entire conference prayed, “May their spirit of justice and truth live in our hearts.” The IFTJ collectively mourned the injustice of the murders by the
Salvadoran army and continuing injustices around our world and in our country today, while also using the anniversary as a catalyst to promote work for justice and peace. Chris Kerr, executive
director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national network promoting work for justice based on the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, welcomed delegates from across the country and the
world to participate together as members of the “Ignatian Family.”
Keynote speakers included Dr. Michael Lee, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Fordham University, Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, and Father Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J. (familiarly known as Padre Melo), human rights activist and director of Radio Progreso and E.R.I.C., The Team for Reflection, Research and Communication in his native Honduras. Lee spoke about the example of the University of Central America (UCA), the institution in San Salvador where the six murdered Jesuits lived and worked, as “dedicating itself to a national reality” and being a “university with a center outside itself.” Dennis urged students to realize that their “Jesuit education will help [them] find beauty, courage, and compassion where others only see despair.” She encouraged everyone present to reject worldly measures of success and to “interpret reality from the soup kitchens and broken neighborhoods and war zones.” Padre Melo spoke of the urgency of the currently volatile situation in Honduras and proclaimed that the United States government has “manos y mentes llenas de sangre inocente,” hands and minds full of innocent blood in its complicity with the militarization of Honduras. He also emphasized that, contrary to popular belief, economic inequalities in Central America are more pronounced now than they were 25 years ago.
Breakout sessions allowed participants to engage more intimately with diverse topics, such as “Peacebuilding in Words, Actions, and Behaviors,” and “Social Justice in 21st-Century Life-Giving Cinema.” Throughout the IFTJ, student speakers also shared their experiences of service immersions, racism and feminism initiatives, criminal rehabilitation efforts, and other student-driven programs that raise awareness and connect faith to action.
The IFTJ closed on Sunday night with a Mass of remembrance, community, and reflection on the opportunity to gather together and speak about issues pertinent to the world today. Father Brent Otto, S.J., spoke in his breakout session, “Liturgy of Lament: Starting Point for Communal Action for Justice,” of Sunday Mass as “a meal hosted by Jesus for his friends” and that Mass is the place “where we are most authentically ourselves.” The Ignatian Family shared an authentic meal, brought together by the animating spirits of Jesus Christ and the ever-present memory of the martyrs, on the exact date that 25 years ago was a day of mourning and outrage at the atrocities committed by the Salvadoran government. Boston College’s own Fr. Don MacMillan, S.J., joined the IFTJ late Sunday afternoon after spending the weekend at the UCA remembrance in El Salvador and said the IFTJ was mentioned at the UCA as “a spark of hope” for the future of justice and advocacy. Mass was a joyous and spirited affair filled with thanksgiving and prayer for the Ignatian Family and the wider world.
The spirit of the IFTJ continued on Monday morning as delegations met with members of Congress to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform, environmental justice, and U.S. policy toward Central America, taking full advantage of the privileges of democratic government and putting faith into concrete action.