Sr. Louise Lears doesn’t know what she will experience in El Salvador — but she knows it will change her.
She is part of a group of US women religious who look back on El Salvador martyrs, ahead to delegation to mark 35th anniversary
Lears and 116 others are spending a week in the Central American country, visiting the site where three sisters and a lay missioner were killed 35 years ago. They also plan to visit the site where six Jesuit priests and two others were slain, see martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero‘s crypt, and visit memorials to the thousands of disappeared during El Salvador’s civil war.
“All these years I’ve read about the places we will go,” Lears told GSR before leaving. “I’ve thought about, prayed about, wondered about the people with whom we will speak. I’ve wanted to stand in those places, hear those voices, talk to the mothers of the disappeared.”
Lears is a Sister of Charity in Cincinnati; three others in her congregation are making the trip, as well.
“I think of this as a really sacred pilgrimage,” she said. “I’ve heard people who have gone to the Holy Land and seen certain places and said they never read the Gospel the same way. I anticipate I’ll never read the words of Oscar Romero the same way.”
On Dec. 2, 1980, Ursuline Sr. Dorothy Kazel, lay missioner Jean Donovan, and Maryknoll Srs. Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were kidnapped, raped and murdered by government soldiers. The government targeted religious for their work with the poor, work they saw as in league with the rebels they labeled as communists.
Archbishop Romero was gunned down during Mass eight months before after speaking out against the oppression of the poor.
In 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed. The 12-year civil war saw citizens deliberately targeted and terrorized, with thousands kidnapped and killed without a trace. The United Nations estimates 75,000 were killed.
But three and a half decades later, it is the murder of the four church women that somehow still burns for so many.
The trip is sponsored by the SHARE El Salvador foundation and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Of the 117 delegates on the trip, said SHARE Executive Director José Artiga, only six or seven are men. The group was scheduled to arrive in El Salvador on Nov. 28 and depart Dec. 5.
“We’re calling it the 100-Women Delegation,” he said. “LCWR issued an invitation to every region, so every region of the country is represented.”
But the trip is much more than a commemoration of the deaths of the four church women.
Delegates on the trip will also meet with grass roots movement leaders, human rights defenders and mothers of the disappeared. They will also learn about the root causes of the violence that has spurred an unprecedented wave of immigrants from the region trying to see asylum in the United States.
And they will seek justice.
A memorial to the women killed in 1980. (Courtesy of SHARE)