The Poor are the First Martyrs

Today the church remembers the Martyrs of El Salvador.

Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel were Catholic Missionaries, Ursuline, and Maryknoll Sisters murdered in 1980 for their outspoken defense of the plight of the powerless and poor. Accompanying the people there, they were irritating the powers of the day with their theology of liberation and hope.

These four sisters were murdered on this day in the same year that Archbishop Romero was murdered, though he was killed in March.

Instead of recounting the details of their lives, I’ll just share a bit from a letter Sister Clarke wrote to her companion, Katie, just before she was murdered:

“There are so many deaths everywhere that it is incredible.

The ‘death squadron’ strikes in so many poor homes. A family of seven, including three small children, was machine-gunned to death in a nearby town just last week. It is a daily thing–bodies everywhere, many decomposing or attacked by animals because no one can touch them until they are seen by a coroner. It is an atmosphere of death.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring…Write to me soon. Know that I love you and pray for you daily. Keep us in your heart and prayers, especially the poor forsaken people.”

The days surrounding Christmas are filled with Feast Days, some beautiful (like St. Nicholas), and some tragic like today. This is because the Divine entered into the world not as we would like it to be, but as it is: beautiful and tragic.

These martyrs today are a reminder to me, and should be for the church, that the first victims of any sort of violence are the poor and vulnerable.

If you need confirmation of that, just ask any medical professional who they are treating for COVID-19.

Those with means, good insurance, fewer health conditions (that are easily and often exacerbated by poverty!), and who can take off work to get treatment without fear of losing their job largely recover.

Those without, do not.

Looking at you Joe Rogan and Aaron Rodgers.

It is a different kind of violence, a more negligent kind on the part of the powers of the world, but it is violence none-the-less.

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