The Blood of Martyrs

I was on my way home with friends after a weekend in Wenatchee, where a group had come together to celebrate our friend’s decision and coming departure to become a Catholic priest. Upon dropping off said friend at his current residence, the rectory at St. Benedict, he kindly gave us a quick tour of his new home, introduced us to two other men undergoing a similar process of discernment, and showed us the private chapel in the rectory. The tour of the rectory made his journey all the more real and tangible for me, and I dove into a deeper state of reflection. It was with this mindset that I entered the chapel at Seattle University that same evening at 8 p.m., where I joined my little sister, a freshman at Seattle U, for Mass.

We were fortunate to hear the words of Fr. Steve Sundborg that night, the University president, who proved to be a worthy vessel for what was an unexpected but galvanizing message. As he prepared to offer his homily, Fr. Steve’s presence took on a somber tone. He began describing the events of November 16, 1989: six Jesuit priests in El Salvador were murdered, along with their housekeeper and her daughter. The killings took place at the campus of Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in San Salvador. The victims were gunned down by armed men who were members of the Atlacatl Battalion, “an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army.” Several of the Jesuit victims were associated with liberation theology — a stance that countered the army in its effort to serve the poor majority in Latin America. That night, “some of the victims were found with their brains scooped out, a gesture of warning to intellectuals and academics.”

This horrendous series of murders rightfully shook the Jesuit community, and Fr. Steve recounted his own experience upon hearing of the attack. Early in the morning 26 years ago, as he sat in a Jesuit communal hall eating his breakfast, he saw a young Jesuit priest run into the hall weeping, bearing the news of the tragedy. Fr. Steve went on to share how the lives of these martyrs has galvanized the Jesuit community since then. Each year, Jesuit campuses commemorate the tragedy through a service or memorial gesture. For Fr. Steve and so many Jesuit priests in particular, the killings reinforced a personal commitment to their work. He referenced a phrase once established in the year 197— the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.

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