Sep 6 – The Four Churchwomen of El Salvador

Illumination - 4 Churchwomen of El Salvador
Ita Ford + Maura Clarke + Jean Donovan + Dorothy Kazel
Witnesses for Peace + Martyrs
2 December 1980 (remembered 6 September)

Click here for books and articles on the Four Churchwomen of El Salvador


From the Satucket Library

A few days before her death, as part of a retreat liturgical service, Sr. Ita was asked to read a quote from martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero: “…he who is committed to the poor must share the same fate as the poor…to disappear, to be tortured…and to be found dead by the side of the road.”

December 2, 1980, this became the fate of four women; Maryknoll sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, lay missioner Jean Donovan, and Ursuline sister Dorothy Kazel.

These gentle, loving women, living out their commitment to God’s preferential option for the poor, were raped, shot and their bodies left, bruised and naked, by the side of the road. They were American faces amongst 75,000 native Salvadorans, victims of a brutal civil war. In this icon, they stand as reminders of the dignity and beauty of all those innocent victims of greed and oppression.

In this image, the Advent wreath serves to commemorate not only when they died, but also to remind us of this season of hopeful expectancy, yearning for the arrival of Christ’s presence on earth. These women prayed for Christ’s presence amongst so much senseless violence. They learned here, even the Gospel was considered subversive. In the circle of the wreath, the women’s portraits replace the traditional candles: they offer us a glimpse of eternal light. The ribbons represent the color of the candles; three violet ribbons represent sorrow, and one pink, for the third week of Advent, represents the joy we experience with one week till Christ’s birth. I picked Dorothy for this ribbon as she was very joyful, and was the third body unearthed from the temporary grave. The wreath itself is made of evergreen branches, symbolic of life. In the center is a stylized view towards the mountains from the site of their temporary burial, emphasizing the beauty of creation. The barbed wire is evidence of boundaries as land disputes were at the root of so much injustice in Central America. The white cross at the bottom is in memory of Ita’s good friend, Sr. Carla Piette, who drowned two months before Ita’s death, pushing Ita free from their jeep that had been caught in a flash flood. The white cross and black lettering are used by protesters of the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

Research has shown the the deaths of the four women were, in part, in response to unsubstantiated allegations by the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) that the Maryknoll order was involved in subversive activities and fomenting revolution.

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