The fortieth anniversary of the martyrdom in El Salvador of four Catholic missionaries from the United States is to be marked in an online service in a London Catholic parish.
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.
“They are the named of the nameless martyrs,” Julian Filochowski, chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, told The Tablet. He knew Sr Maura Clarke when she worked in Nicaragua where she was known as the “angel of Ciudad Sandino”, remembered for her kindness in the town where she literally gave her shoes away to the poor.
Clare Dixon of Cafod once met Jean Donovan when she visited Cafod’s offices just three months before her death. She sought support for her mission and the work that she was carrying out with children in a refugee centre in the little town of Zaragoza in the south of El Salvador.
All four women rescued and accompanied poor communities displaced by conflict, even though as missionaries they risked being labelled as subversives themselves. They are among over 75,000 civilians who died at the hands of government forces during the 12-year civil war in El Salvador.
They are venerated in El Salvador as heroic women who made a genuine option for the poor and stood by the Christian communities as civil war broke out. They gave their lives rescuing migrants and protecting internal refugees who were fleeing terrible military repression.
“There is great hope that this anniversary year might be the moment to launch the cause for their beatification as martyrs killed out of hatred of the faith,” says Julian Filochowski. “They lived out Vatican ll in their ministry and are recognised as model missionary disciples by women religious across the whole Church,” he added.
In El Salvador, the four martyrs are remembered at the memorial site where their bodies were found. Today, the chapel and markers are protected by the El Salvador government and the site is considered national patrimony.
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 be led by Fr Paul Smyth CMF, Sr Anne Griffin SSHJM and Pat Gaffney, and will include a reflection by Sr Gemma Simmonds CJ.
Other services around the world will include Mass in Chalatenango in El Salvador, where Maura Clarke and Ita Ford are buried. The main celebrant will be Bishop Oswaldo Escobar of Chalatenango. In Rome, Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ will celebrate Mass with members of religious orders at the Oratory of St Francis Xavier del Caravita.
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You can watch a documentary - Roses in December - about the four missionaries, focusing on Jean Donovan.