For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
– Isaiah 2:3-4
The season of Advent is a time of waiting – and hope! Each year we are invited by the Scripture readings to reflect on the great gift of peace that we are promised – and given – in the birth of Jesus Christ into a world rent asunder by violence and war. On that day, the prophet Isaiah tells us, “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb (11:6),” and “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces (25:8).”
On November 16, members of our office joined thousands from across this nation at the gates of the School of the Americas in Georgia to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter who were martyred in El Salvador. They were violently taken from their beds at night and murdered.
For many decades now, the School of the Americas has trained armies from Latin America that have been implicated in grave human rights violations, including in Chile where Columbans have worked for years with families of the victims to end the practice of torture. Nineteen of the 26 soldiers involved in the murder of the Jesuits in El Salvador were trained at the School of the Americas.
I remember well, I was working with the church in El Salvador at that time, and attended their funeral. Three years later, the opposing sides in the civil war in El Salvador signed a Peace Accord brokered by the United Nations, ending 12 years of civil war that resulted in 75,000 civilian deaths.
At the end of the war, Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J., who survived only because he was out of the country at the time, said at a thanksgiving mass in the Jesuit chapel: “El Salvador is holy ground, because when great suffering and great love converge, we are standing on holy ground.”
Why were the six Jesuits killed? Fr. Sobrino, with words that he heard from a Salvadoran peasant when he asked them that question, responded: “They spoke the truth and defended the poor, that’s why they were killed.”
In El Salvador, the church was persecuted for speaking the truth and defending the poor. In addition to the six Jesuits, 12 other priests, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and four church women from the United States were martyred.
Twenty-five years later, our world is still wracked by violence and war, particularly in the Middle East, but also across Asia, Africa and – in a different form – Latin America. While the era of military dictatorships in Latin America has passed, the military in some countries like Colombia and Honduras continues to target civilians who speak the truth and defend the poor. Only weeks ago, 43 students were disappeared and assassinated in Ayotzinapa, Mexico.
In Central America, Mexico and North America, we are witnessing a dramatic increase in the militarization of the police, army and security forces. Gangs, drug cartels and corrupt police have targeted youth, and forced thousands to flee the violence and migrate to the United States. Many of them crossed the U.S. – Mexico border last summer, and some of them were welcomed and received hospitality from the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, Texas.
This week we lift up the hope of this Advent season, and remember the gift and promise of peace, a peace which invites us to be living witnesses of that Gospel peace, justice and reconciliation. Then we may truly rejoice, in the spirit of the season, by “making room” for Jesus Christ in our hearts as well as in our lives, urging all nations to train for war no more, and to welcome as our sister or brother the stranger in our midst.