The Martyrs' Living Witness

IN SAN SALVADOR, ON THE 16TH OF NOVEMBER 1989, AS IS known around the world, six Jesuit priests, together with their cook and her daughter, were dragged from their beds and murdered. The event was hardly unforeseen or even unchosen by the priests.

For at least four years, they had dwelt under the livid threat that at length broke through their doors and called in a debt of blood. At one point several years ago, an ultimatum was issued against them: 30 days to leave the country or be killed. They chose to remain and take their chances. The word of the Spirit, one concludes, was: Remain.

Instead of leaving, the Jesuits sent a modest appeal to their brothers around the world. Please be apprised of our predicament. Please come if possible to El Salvador. International attention is our only hope. A slight interference, the presence of outsiders, might, just might, delay discharge of guns already cocked and aimed.

It was at this point that another New York Jesuit and I resolved to go. In the course of our visit, we met all those who were subsequently murdered. It occurred to me at the time that it might also be useful to publish a small account of the journey, of the friendships we formed, of the dangers and complications of life in that tormented country. I did so. But nothing we could do availed, as we were to learn to our horror and grief.

The reality of the situation of the Jesuits required neither drama nor dramaturge. Day after day, year after year, as the guns resounded to and fro like mad metronomes, the mortal danger wherein the priests stood -- what form the end might take -- could hardly have been made more vivid to them. Certainly not by their unclairvoyant visitors from el Norte.

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