Twenty-five years ago next month, in the early morning hours of November 16, 1989, army commandos invaded the University of Central America in San Salvador, roused the sleeping Jesuit community, and sprayed them with machine gun fire on the garden lawn. The victims included six Jesuit priests along with their cook and her teenaged daughter.
For years the Jesuits had angered the ruling elite by siding with the oppressed in the bitter social conflict that divided the country. Ignacio Ellacuría, rector of the university (and an Orbis author), had emerged as a particularly effective advocate of national dialogue and a critic of the injustice and repression that fed the bitter civil war. For his efforts he was derided in right-wing propaganda as the "brains" of the "communist" movement. The Jesuits were no communists. They were priests who struggled to live out the Church's preferential option for the poor and who had committed themselves to the Jesuit mission: "service of faith and promotion of justice." They had committed the university to this same mission, believing that in a world of conflict a Christian university must stand with the victims of violence.