The Cost of “Preferential Option for the Poor”

by | Dec 4, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections, Vincentian Family

Forty seconds for four who gave their lives 40 years ago

Pope Francis remembered the 40th anniversary of four missionaries’ death in El Salvador. They died living out their “preferential option for the poor.”

Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay volunteer Jean Donovan were slain by five members of El Salvador’s right-wing National Guard on Dec. 2, 1980.

Just 6 months earlier St. Óscar Romero’s assassination sent a message to all those who had taken up the “preferential option for the poor.

“They were kidnapped, raped, and assassinated,” Pope Francis said in a live-streamed, virtual audience from the papal study.

Although it has received little notice, Pope Francis introduced a new pathway to sainthood on July 11, 2017, recognizing individuals who, although not martyrs in the traditional sense, put their lives in danger out of compassion for others and died as a consequence.

“It is certain,” said the pontiff, “that their heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ and, therefore, is worthy of that admiration which…the faithful usually reserve for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.”

US Catholic highlighted the contrast Fr. John Prager, CM once described as being “tourists in the land of the poor.”

“These were not pious foreign missionaries coming in to preach a message of brotherly love and then returning to their comfortable American-style house, but educated young women who lived in a little wooden house like [the people] did, who traveled on foot and by bus as they did and who shared their bread and their friendship and their talents…”

Forty years ago, these 4 women gave their lives. Can you devote 40 seconds in prayerful memory of the countless others who have been martyred since then and petition for the courage to serve the forgotten and marginalized? Read their own words. It should take just about 40 seconds.

In their own words…

America Magazine shares with us the words of Maura Clarke, M.M., Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, M.M., Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U.

  • “If we abandon them when they are suffering the cross, how can we speak credibly about the resurrection?” – Maura Clarke, M.M.
  • Most of us feel we would want to stay here.… We wouldn’t want to just run out on the people.” – Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U.
  • “Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children.” – Jean Donovan
  • I truly believe that I should be here, and I can’t even tell you why.… All I can share with you is that God’s palpable presence has never been more real.” – Ita Ford, M.M.

All four women chose to stay. They had friends, family members and colleagues urging them to come home.

Despite all of that— or because of it— the four churchwomen chose to stay and to suffer, as St. Romero had once said, “the same fate as the poor.”

Vincentians speak of a “preferential option for the poor.”

We must ask ourselves:

  • Where will we take our stand in the midst of such uncertainty?
  • What might the “preferential option for the poor” cost me in my ordinary service?
  • When the time comes, will I be faithful?