Good morning, it's Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, the day of the week I pass along quotations intended to be inspirational or thought-provoking. Today's come from four American Catholic churchwomen whose bodies were discovered 40 years ago today in El Salvador, two days after they were the victims of an unspeakable crime.
The four martyred women were Maryknoll nuns Ita Ford and Maura Clarke; Dorothy Kazel, a sister in the Ursuline Order sent to El Salvador six years earlier by the Latin American mission team of the Cleveland diocese; and Jean Donovan, a lay volunteer whose Christian faith had deepened after a post-graduate year of study in Ireland.
What they found in El Salvador was a stratified society on the brink of civil war. The U.S. government was in the process of choosing sides -- the side of the government, and not the leftist insurgents -- but these four women were drawn, as they believed Christ would have been, to the side of the poor. It cost them their lives.
The March 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero while he celebrated Mass showed the world that military-backed right-wing forces in El Salvador knew no boundaries -- and that the country wasn't safe for anyone.
Among those worried about their loved ones were the many friends of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan. All four wrote letters to these friends, not exactly to offer reassurance but to inform them that although they were acutely aware of the danger, they felt called to remain where they were.
The challenges these women faced can be found in various books including "The Same Fate as the Poor" by Judith M. Noone, and "Hearts on Fire" by Penny Lernoux -- or in a dryer form in the findings of the U.S. Institute of Peace's Commission on the Truth for El Salvador. A poignant article by Margaret Swedish, who was the director of the Religious Task Force on Central America and Washington, D.C., during those fraught years, appeared only this week in America, a Jesuit magazine. It is from her heartfelt piece that the following quotes are borrowed.
Jean Donovan, in a letter home to a friend in Connecticut: "Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them?"
Ita Ford, writing three years earlier, in 1977, when the situation began turning violent: "Am I willing to suffer with the people here, the suffering of the powerless? Can I say to my neighbors, ‘I have no solution to this situation. I don't know the answers, but I will walk with you, search with you, be with you.'"
Dorothy Kazel, writing to fellow Ursuline sister Martha Owen in Ohio about her decision to remain in Central America: "We talked quite a bit today about what happens if something begins. … We wouldn't want to just run out on the people. ... Anyway, my beloved friend, just know how I feel and ‘treasure it in your heart.' If a day comes when others will have to understand, please explain it for me."
Maura Clarke: "If we abandon them when they are suffering the cross, how can we speak credibly about the resurrection?"
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.