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Twenty-five years after their martyrdom,
Four American women are remembered

El Salvador CrossNew York, December 2, 2005 -- Twenty-five years after four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador were abducted, raped and shot in by national guardsmen, ecumenical groups around the world are assembling at the site of their deaths to honor their memory.

The four women -- (pictured below, from top) Sister Maura Clarke, M.M, Sister Dorothy Kazel, O.S.U., Sister Ita Ford, M.M., and lay missioner Jean Donovan -- were killed in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980. The murders were part of a brutal pattern of attacks by death squads and members of the Salvadoran Armed Forces against persons working with El Salvador's poor and war refugees.

The women were killed nine months after the assassination in March 1980 of El Salvador Bishop Oscar Romero, who also defended the poor against the right-wing Salvadoran government.

The anniversary observance is co-sponsored by the SHARE Foundation, the Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) and Pax Christi USA.  

Sister Maura ClarkeAmong the attendees is the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.

Sister Dorothy KazelIn January 1981, as a young congressman from southeastern Pennsylvania, Edgar was part of a congressional team that visited El Salvador "to investigate the deaths of our fellow Americans." Other members of the team were Maryland Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator, and Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds, among others.

"Our prevailing emotion then was anger and despair brought on by the unacceptable reality that these young lives, so full of hope and promise, were so brutally snuffed out," Edgar said. "These four women were Sister Maura Clarkedrum majors for justice in a land where their lives were threatened every day."

The team brought the women's story back to the U.S., where their deaths influenced popular opinion about the U.S. government's financial support of the Salvadoran government.. "I don't believe the people of the United States want to see their money being spent to help the military kill and rape women," Mikulski said bluntly on a 1981 broadcast of 20/20.

Jean Donovan"Today," Edgar said in remarks prepared for the Dec. 2 commemoration, "it is possible to think of Jean and Ita and Maura and Dorothy with a smile and a celebration of the gifts they gave us. Their lives and their deaths are a reminder, so badly needed in our turbulent times, that a witness for truth and justice cannot be crushed, that Jesus will not desert us when our confrontation with evil must result in death, and that men and women united in faith by a common Lord are indomitable."

Edgar said: "These four women, by the way they lived and the way they died, are models for us all. Another martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, 'Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Edgar and Episcopal Bishop Martin Barahona of El Salvador are pictured at left.

Also addressing the memorial service was Marie Dennis, Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington. Click here for the text of her remarks.

The full text of Edgar's statement follows:

Armed with the seed of faith that brings us together, no power on earth can pull us apart. 

I am deeply moved today to see who has been drawn together to honor the memory of these four courageous women. I stand here as a Protestant minister, bolstered by the presence of Roman Catholic sisters, laity, and priests (and persons from a wide range of faith traditions), reflecting on God’s power to strengthen the ties that bind us. Here today, we embody the ecumenical vision of Pope John Paul II and so many of our forebears in faith. 

These four women, by the way they lived and the way they died, are models for us all. Another martyr, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” These four women were drum majors for justice in a land where their lives were threatened every day.  They were martyred for the same cause as Archbishop Oscar Romero. And they knew, as Martin did, that regardless of our skin color, class, religious tradition or political persuasion, we are all “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” 

When I was in Central America 25-years ago as a part of a U.S. Congressional delegation to investigate the murders of our fellow Americans, our prevailing emotion was anger and despair brought on by the unacceptable reality that these young lives, so full of joy and hope and promise, were so brutally snuffed out. Today it is possible to think of Jean and Ita and Maura and Dorothy with a smile and a celebration of the gifts they gave us. Their lives and their deaths are a reminder, so badly needed in our turbulent times, that a witness for truth and justice cannot be crushed, that Jesus will not desert us when our confrontation with evil must result in death, and that men and women united in faith by a common Lord are indomitable. 

The National Council of Churches USA – 35 communions representing 45 million persons of faith in 100,000 local congregations – remembers Jean and Ita and Maura and Dorothy with affection and celebrates their lives. We will never forget them. They were God’s great gift to all of us.

Contact NCC News: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, pjenks@ncccusa.org; or Leslie Tune, 202-544-2350, ltune@ncccusa.org

 


 

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