Remembering a Tragedy

Thirty-four years ago, four churchwomen were slain in El Salvador, simply for daring to walk in love and life with the poor.  The lives of those four women – Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, along with Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missioner Jean Donovan – as well as other Maryknoll Sisters, including Sister Carla Piete, who gave her life to save Sister Ita’s, were commemorated in a moving Mass, held this past Sunday, November 30, 2014, at Maryknoll Sisters Center.

Family and close friends of Sisters Ita and Maura attended the Mass, which has become an annual observance made the first Sunday of Advent at the Center, gathered with the congregation to once again pay tribute to sacrifices made and to contemplate those who, even in the present day, face death in the course of missionary endeavors.

“The violent and sudden deaths of our martyrs remind us that we do not know the manner of our death or the time,” commented Maryknoll Sisters President Janice McLaughlin, MM, in her welcoming remarks prior to the beginning of Mass. “We are advised to prepare ourselves, to be ready. Ita and Maura had just come from a regional meeting in Nicaragua, only a few months after Carla died.  In the company of their Maryknoll Sisters and friends from Panama, Nicaragua and El Salvador (some of whom are with us today), they were strengthened in their resolve to return to El Salvador in spite of the danger. They were prepared. They were ready.”

“Martyrdom is not a thing of the past; a phenomenon that took place hundreds of years ago under Roman Emperors, or under Stalinist, Nazi or Communist governments,” Sister Janice was quick to add. “It is very much a reality of our own time.

“A few weeks ago the Eastern Fellowship of Professors of Mission ‘Christian Mission in Times of Persecution’. We heard the witness of Christians from Pakistan, North Korea, Syria and Iraq who barely escaped death themselves; whose friends, neighbors and family members were brutally murdered because of their faith.

“More people than ever before are dying because of what they believe – an estimated 100,000 per year.[1] In an article called “Flashpoints for Future Martyrdom”, historian Eric Hanson states: “This new vocation of the global religious-based international servant of humanity could inspire a new generation of young people to live out their faith in situations that would be more, rather than less, demanding than that of facing the lions in the Roman Coliseum…  True peacemakers will not have to look for martyrdom… it will easily find them.”[2]

Martyrdom found our friends, Ita, Maura, Carla, Jean and Dorothy – as well as all the Maryknoll martyrs whose photos are placed around this chapel and those yet to come. We know the stories of how they suffered and died…. Their lives make a difference. So should ours.”

The four churchwomen will also be remembered in a prayer service to be held Tuesday, December 2, 2014, from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI.  The public is invited.