A Sign for Eternity

The site was the chapel of Trinity College in Washington, DC, the oldest women's Catholic college in the United States. It seemed fitting to come to this place, where traditional marble and gold were embellished for a brief moment with the resplendent colors of Central American tapestries and the symbols of life and resurrection from that region.

At the foot of the brightly adorned altar sat two large baskets of corn -- 75,000 kernels to represent the martyrs of El Salvador who have given their lives in the pursuit of justice, who have followed Jesus to the cross. We were gathered with the memories of four of them in particular in our hearts -- Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, U.S. missionaries who were killed on a dark and lonely road not far from San Salvador's airport exactly 10 years before, on December 2, 1980.

Beautiful banners bearing their faces were carried down the aisles in silence to begin our service. And then began the ominous drumbeat and the "litany of the martyrs." One after another, the names were sung out -- "Rutilio Grande, Febe Velasquez, Hector Gallego, Laura Lopez, Ignacio Ellacuria, Elba Julia Ramos, Segundo Montes, Marianela Garcia Villas, Maria Magdalena Enriquez, Herbert Ernesto Anaya, Oscar Romero ..."

Catechists, labor leaders, priests, students, journalists -- on and on the names went, impaling our hearts with the enormity of the tragedy that is El Salvador. And after each name the congregation vigorously responded "Presente!" affirming the presence of each martyr. It could have been a litany without end. But finally, the names of Maura, Jean, Dorothy, and Ita echoed through the chapel -- and then we remembered the unnamed thousands of others whose spirits were there among us.

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