Plan to commemorate the witness of
Ita, Dorothy, Maura & Jean on Dec. 2nd
Thursday, November 19, 2020
Greetings of peace!

During the first week of December, we will gather in solidarity with the global community to remember the 40th anniversary of the martyrdom of the four U.S. churchwomen who were violently murdered in El Salvador: Lay missioner Jean Donovan, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke. 
Together, we travel to a painful time in history, recalling that dreadful evening of December 2nd in 1980, when the four missioners, like many of the poor of El Salvador, were abducted, violated, shot execution-style, and discarded into a shallow, unmarked grave not far from the airport in San Salvador. Their bodies were later discovered by campesinos and the van that they had been driving when stopped at a military checkpoint was found about 20 miles away, scorched and gutted. Their brutal deaths both stunned and outraged the international community—pulling back what was once an impenetrable curtain of the U.S.-sponsored Salvadoran death squad’s abuse on the poor and marginalized of El Salvador. 

Forty years have gone and come, and still, we mourn their deaths and that of more than 75,000 Salvadorans. Over the course of time, a type of transformation has taken place—mourning has shifted from sorrow to redemptive joy as we celebrate their ever-felt presence among us. The churchwomen are no longer seen as victims but as martyrs for the cause of peace and social justice. They are the four "Roses in December" who inspire us to stand with and on the side of the poor and those threatened with violence.  

It is our hope that this PSA e-bulletin will invite you to spend time in active prayer with the four U.S. churchwomen and to take action in safeguarding the human dignity and human rights of all peoples. 

Dorothy, Ita, Jean and Maura, Presente!
Sr. Dianna Ortiz
In peace,

Dianna Ortiz, OSU
Pax Christi USA Deputy Director
US churchwomen-martyrs
Light a candle in remembrance of Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura. On the 2nd of December, for 40 minutes or 40 hours, keep the candle burning. Spend time conversing with our beloved sisters. Breathe prayers of solidarity to the people of El Salvador and those whose human rights continue to be violated as a result of past and present U.S. foreign policies. 

Prayer for the Four Church Women 

May our remembrance of your deaths
Be a blessing on our work for nonviolence.
May our mourning and grief
Become a wellspring of desire for peace.

From the blood-stained earth
That marked your cruel deaths
May new seeds reach for the light.
From the examples of your good lives
May we be graced to continue the work.

You have passed the struggle on to us.
We celebrate you in each step forward,
Your hands in ours now,
Our hands reaching out toward the future,
All a part of the beloved community. Amen. 

~ by Jane Deren, Ph.D., (11/14/2020)

Reflection Questions

  • Who were the poor of El Salvador in 1980? Who are the poor of El Salvador today? Who are the Dorothys, Jeans, Itas, and Mauras who minister and stand with the poor of today? 
  • How have past and present U.S. foreign policies contributed to massive human rights violations in Central America and other nations? What are the intended consequences of U.S. military interventions in countries like El Salvador? 
  • How do Dorothy, Ita, Jean, and Maura call us to act as God’s agents of transformation in the world today? 
  • How might the violent deaths of the four U.S. churchwomen, Walter Wallace, Jr., George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others like them, lead us toward collective conversion and Christian solidarity? 
Awake to the dangers of ministering in a war-torn country, the four churchwomen remained faithful to their Gospel call to serve the poor. From the moment they set foot on the sacred land of El Salvador to their final breath in their shallow graves, they witnessed Gospel compassion and solidarity. They walked with and beside the widow, the hungry, the frightened children, the families of the disappeared, and the tortured. It was the unfaltering faith of their beloved community that sustained them.

Between now and Dec. 2nd, we pause to reflect on how the legacy and memory of the four churchwomen live in the Salvadoran community and inspire us by their witness of Christian solidarity. 

Weeks before her death Jean Donovan wrote about her spiritual journey, “I want to get closer to God and going to El Salvador is the only way I think I can … I don't know how the poor survive. People in our position really have to die unto ourselves and our wealth to gain the spirituality of the poor and the oppressed. I have a long way to go on that score. The poor can teach you so much with their patience and their wanting eyes.”

Click here to read an article on the 40th anniversary in the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns November-December 2020 issue of NewsNotes.

Read the interview with Bishop José Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador on how the community of Chalatenango seeks to preserve the memory of the four churchwomen.

Other resources on the lives of the four American churchwomen:

Pax Christi USA is supporting the 40th anniversary commemorations of the martyrdom of the 4 U.S. churchwomen — Dorothy Kazel, OSU, Maura Clarke, MM, Ita Ford, MM and Jean Donovan — in El Salvador in December 1980. LCWR and the SHARE Foundation have invited individuals, sister parishes, educational institutions, faith communities, women religious to celebrate the gift of these four women and remember all of those who dedicated their lives to working for justice in El Salvador and throughout the world. The anniversary is an opportunity to offer their story to a new generation hungry for a share of their love, selflessness and courage. Pax Christi USA is inviting our members, local groups, regions and all throughout our community to participate in this anniversary.

Click here to find a toolkit and read more information at this link about this effort.

Additional actions to consider:

  • Share an email with family, friends, and colleagues letting them know why the 40th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the four U.S. Churchwomen is important to you. Invite them to join the various commemorations. 
  • Host a Virtual Film Screening & Conversation of Roses in December (46 minutes) with your local group. 
  • The InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Colombia (IRTF) formed in response to the deaths of four churchwomen. View IRTF’s Memory and Resistance: A Social Justice Art Show. The artwork honors the memories of past and present advocates on whose shoulders many of us have stood and who inspire us to envision a world of peace and dignity for all. 
  • Ask your Member of Congress to co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR1945) to end US military and police aid to Honduras. 
  • Join the SOA Watch Convergence to End Militarization & Border Imperialism (November 21-22, 2020). The weekend's virtual events are free and bilingual interpretation will be provided. All are welcome!  
  • The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is hosting a hearing on the rights of indigenous people in Latin America on November 20. Click here to stream the Virtual Hearing.  
  • The Maryknoll Sisters will host a virtual gathering on December 2 from 7-8:30 p.m. EST. The event will feature Maryknoll Sisters, family members of the churchwomen, and missioners currently working in El Salvador reflecting on the legacy of the four churchwomen.