312093129_b64d023f134womenOn this day in 1980, those now known as “the four churchwomen of El Salvador” were brutally raped and murdered. Their bodies were found in these shallow graves two days later. And yes, I did place the grisly photo there for a reason.

A few weeks back, the New York Times published an excellent account of the story as part of their “Retro Report” series on the website. It is worth your time – 13 minutes -to watch this video. You can find “Killed in El Salvador: An American Story” here.

And yes, it should be distressing to all of us – all of us – to learn or to be reminded of the involvement of the US government in this event. We have a complicated history with El Salvador during that era.

The four women, Ita Ford MM, Maura Clarke MM, Dorothy Kazel OSU, and Jean Donovan lived and worked among the poor and destitute. The following words from Jean Donovan, the only lay person in the group always goes straight to my heart, particularly at this time of waiting during Advent.

The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…. Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave. I almost could, except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy. Who would care for them? Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.

We have many creature comforts and conveniences, as well as distractions and demands in our lives. It is easy to look away, it is easy in fact, to never look in the first place. Hence my choice of a single photo for this post.

During this time of Advent, we are called in fact to wait and to watch. It can be boring, it can be distressing. And to do otherwise might cause more spiritual harm than many of the things identified as “sin” in the world. Hannah Arendt’s remarks on the “banality of evil,” in which she reflects on Adolf Eichmann’s involvement in the Holocaust come to mind. She wrote about how he was a dutiful servant, with some ambition – not simply an anti-semetic ideologue. (A great link to explore Arendt and her work is here.)

Today’s Gospel should remind us of what we “see” and don’t see, of what holds our gaze and what causes us to turn away – and possibly to never look again, as Jesus says:

Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

Our Advent journey is meant to have us see it and hear it, even when – perhaps most especially when – we do not have the patience or courage to wait, to watch, to see and to hear.

The Four Churchwomen of El Salvador, as evidenced in Jean Donovan’s words above, waited, watched, they saw and heard – and it cost them their lives. So much might not be demanded of most of us, but make no mistake, remaining anything other than present – ¡Presente! – is not an option.

Ultimately, if you can’t stare at the Cross, deeply gazing at the Creche is not possible.


6 thoughts on “¡Presente!

  1. Fran, this truly spoke to me this morning. With all the upheaval these days around the world, including our own, painful realizations, it was good to be reminded the daily struggles that have been going on forever, as it seems. It is so easy to look away, or act if you don’t see. As I try to age gracefully, I find that I spend more time “looking” than ever before and if you can believe it, have been come somewhat more outspoken in my commentary about the ugly truths of the world. At times, it feels like if falls upon deaf ears and blind eyes.

    I recently set up my small crèche and nativity for the holiday. It’s tiny, but gives me great comfort. My mom collected them, so to speak, and I remember finding over 30 of them after she passed. It’s like having a little piece of her, but also a reminder of greater things.

    Thank you for the reminder this morning.


    • My dear, dear Jules – thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad that the post spoke to you, and the image of your mom’s nativity, the memory of her life held in the context of her passing – all very powerful. Lots of love to you, my friend.


  2. Thank you , Fran. In response I will give you my poem prayer.
    I have always gazed at your cross
    With shielded eyes
    Too frightened to absorb
    The sensless brutality of your death.

    Yet, you told Peter to get behind you
    When he begged you to avoid the pain.
    How did you know this cross was yours to bear?
    Who beckoned beyond the seeming end?

    Reveal the God of your strength
    And your love
    So that I may move to embrace
    The sorrows that are my own to bear,
    And join them by your holy grace
    To the suffering of all humaity
    Until we know beyond doubt and fear
    And even faith itself
    That you are among us
    And redemption is still your gift.

    Phyllis Cardona


  3. Reblogged this on Felician JPIC and commented:
    “the four churchwomen of El Salvador” we remember, they are NOT forgotten … can we forgive such cruelty? Give them eternal peace with You of Lord.


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