An Advent Reflection: Martyrdom and Endless War

By Jean Stokan, Director Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Institute Justice Team

Reprinted with permission.

Martyrs have a claim on our lives.  The brutal killings of four U.S. churchwomen in El Salvador on December 2, 1980, riveted women religious in the U.S. and became the seed for a vibrant solidarity movement.  Delegations will travel to El Salvador in late November to participate in commemoration activities for the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of the women:  Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and laywoman Jean Donovan.  Delegations will visit the sites of martyrdom and witness how the legacy of compassion and mercy is being lived out today.

El Salvador became a type of “holy land” in the 1980s where martyrs were produced by the thousands.  People from many countries made pilgrimages to accompany victims of crushing poverty and war.  Solidarity also took the form of advocating.  For those of us from the U.S. it meant calling on Congress to stop its military aid to the Salvadoran government.

Violence and war in too many parts of the world continue to rob life and denigrate human rights.  Cries of anguish call out to us from places such as the Philippines, Honduras, Sudan, Israel/Palestine, Peru, Haiti, the U.S./Mexico border and inner cities everywhere.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the magnitude of suffering and violence is almost incomprehensible.  The U.S. – led war on Iraq not only resulted in the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as U.S. service personnel, it unleashed a spiral of violence and bred hatred – the repercussions of which will be felt for generations.  In Afghanistan, while the security challenges are complex, it is difficult to imagine that a larger U.S. military footprint in the region is the way to pursue peace and long-term stability.

Economic violence too robs life.  Every day nearly 16,000 children around the world die from hunger-related causes, one child every five seconds according to Bread for the World.  In the last nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent over $1 trillion, a scandalous robbing of its treasury.  At a time when U.S. poverty has now reached one in seven persons, it is critical to question the tradeoffs of money for human needs versus military expenditures.

The title of “martyr” is not extended to most of the innocent lives lost in violence and war, let alone to infants who die in their sleep from starvation.  But pausing to reverence each precious life lost matters.  They do have a claim on our lives.  As Advent approaches, might solidarity with these modern day martyrs compel us to cry out more publicly for an end to all violence and war?  Our world is aching for such voices!

May this Advent be a time to chart another way, a nonviolent way.  Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Peace of God, Come!

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1 Comment »

  1. Frances Russell SCL said

    Dear Jean:
    This is a beautiful reflection. I especially like the last two paragraphs which widens the scope of my consciousness as I try to remember those of THIS day as well as those of former days. Any poems lately? Thank you! Sr. Frances Russell

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