On 2 December, an online service in a London parish will mark the fortieth anniversary of the martyrdom in El Salvador of four Catholic missionaries from the United States. Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan were raped and murdered by five members of the El Salvador National Guard on 2 December 1980. It happened just nine months after the martyrdom of St Oscar Romero.
This year’s service will be live-streamed at 7pm on Wednesday 2 December from the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hayes, London. Organised by the Conference of Religious of England and Wales, supported by CAFOD, Pax Christi, and the Archbishop Romero Trust, it will be led by Fr Paul Smyth, Sr Anne Griffin and Pat Gaffney, and will include a reflection by Sr Gemma Simmonds.
Other services will be held around the world, including Mass at Chalatenango in El Salvador, where Maura Clarke and Ita Ford are buried. Columbans in Latin America, in particular, find their stories inspiring for their own missionary work. The churchwomen’s killings awakened the Church internationally to the violence exploding throughout El Salvador and much of Central America. Their murderers were members of a military death squad of the right-wing Salvadoran military-led government, during the brutal civil war that lasted from 1979–1992. The women were among more than 75,000 people killed in the war. All four rescued and accompanied poor communities displaced by conflict, even though as missionaries they risked being labelled as subversives themselves.
Scott Wright, Director of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington, worked with CARITAS Honduras and the Archdiocese of San Salvador during that civil war, accompanying refugees and displaced peoples in areas of conflict. He met Maura Clarke’s parents after her killing. He feels it is important to remember today that the four church women lost their lives, “because they served the poorest of the poor, families and children displaced by death squad and military violence, refugees fleeing the countryside to refugee camps set up by Archbishop Romero in the churches and seminaries of his archdiocese.” They remind us “to challenge a world that institutionalises violence and greed.” He and his wife, Jean Stokan, who works for the Sisters of Mercy, named their daughter ‘Maura’, after Maura Clarke.
The British service will be live-streamed at 7pm on Wednesday 2 December from the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Hayes, London. Organised by the Conference of Religious of England and Wales, it is supported by CAFOD, Pax Christi, and the Archbishop Romero Trust. It will led by Fr Paul Smyth CMF Sr Anne Griffin SSHJM and Pat Gaffney, and will include a reflection by Sr Gemma Simmonds CJ.