How did the IFTJ come to be?
Early in the morning of November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter were taken from their residence and executed by a Salvadoran military commando unit. This horrendous atrocity alerted United States citizens to the systemic abuses and tragedies occurring during El Salvador’s civil war; however, those connected to the Jesuits were well aware of the injustices. These murders were not isolated nor were they random incidents. Much like the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, these were violent responses to voices within the Church calling for an end to the oppression of the poor.
Only to add to the horror of this massacre was the United State’s involvement in the attack. US military aid funded the action and many of the soldiers involved in the murder of the Jesuits trained in terrorism tactics at the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. For 20 years, students, priests, nuns, and other concerned citizens gather at the base on the anniversary of the death of the Jesuits to be in solidarity with the Latin American communities afflicted with violence perpetrated by the school’s graduates.
In November 1996, members of Jesuit high schools and colleges and parishes started gathering at the gates of Fort Benning with the other protestors in the newly started Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. In addition to bearing witness to thousands of lives lost at the hands of SOA graduates, it was an opportunity for members from different Jesuit apostolates to gather together to learn about and network around justice. Fourteen years later, in 2010, the Teach-In relocated to Washington, DC, to include an advocacy component on Capitol Hill. This fall over fifty members of the Creighton community, including students, Jesuits, faculty, and staff will represent the university in Washington, DC, at the IFTJ. All twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, in addition to a number of Jesuit high schools, will be represented at this event. The Teach-In allows students to educate themselves on the various efforts of our nation’s Ignatian communities made to fulfill the Society of Jesus’ commitment to faith, service and justice for the world.
Why and how is Creighton involved?
Creighton students, staff and faculty have been attending since 1997. In 1999, Fr. Bert Thelen, SJ and Dr. Jeanne Schuler accompanied students. In 2002, twenty-six Creighton students made the journey to the Ignatian Family Teach-In. In 2004, fifty-seven members of the Creighton community participated, including Dr. Jean Schuler, Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Laura Weber, Director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Bert Thelen, SJ, Pastor of St. John’s Parish, and Maria Teresa Gaston, Director of the Creighton Center for Service and Justice.
Creighton in El Salvador
Creighton Jesuits Fr. Bert Thelen and Fr. Don Doll have also visited Guarjila to be with their classmate, Jon Cortina, S.J., who received an honorary degree from Creighton in May 2003. They recently attended his funeral in San Salvador in 2006. The sophomore service, faith, and justice community in McGloin Hall is named after Fr. Cortina (the “Cortina Community“).
John Giuliano has lived in El Salvador since 1984 and has a strong relationship with Creighton University. Creighton graduates Dan Justin and Holly Fuller, as well as CCSJ Director Maria Teresa Gaston’s son Philip, have spent entire summers living in Guarjila. CCSJ Associate Director Ken Reed-Bouley spent two weeks in Guarjila with his wife and two daughters.
On Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, Creighton University, along with Jesuits and the world-wide Catholic community, commemorated the 21st anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. A special 5 p.m. bilingual Mass was held at St. John’s Church on Creighton’s campus. Creighton students constructed a Martyrs Memorial on the church steps that included visual displays honoring the victims and their commitment to faith. Creighton students also drove to attend the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, DC from November 12-16 to learn about social justice issues and to participate in advocacy day where students met with congressmen on Capitol Hill to discuss the following issues: the closing of the WHINSEC/School of the Americas, where 19 of the 21 Salvadoran soldiers who participated in the murder of the Jesuits and their colleagues were trained, Environmental Policy Reform and Immigration Reform.
“This anniversary is considered a pivotal historical moment for Jesuits and their supporters. It is a time that we recommit to the promotion of faith that does justice,” Fr. Andy Alexander, S.J., vice president for University Ministry.