“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…
Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine." (Jean Donovan)
I read this again today, the 30th anniversary of Jean's martyrdom, along with Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke. My own trip to El Salvador with Catholic Relief Services in 2007 came back in a flash. I remembered sitting in a community center in Aguilares, listening to folks tell their horrific stories of torture, violence and imprisonment. As we listened, I became aware of a police van driving up and down the street, slowing down as it passed the doorway. It occurred to me that there could be a drive by shooting any moment and we could all die. I was terrified and calm at the same time.
We continued to listen to the stories----and it meant so much to the tellers that we, Americans, were there to listen. And we believed them!
That police van kept driving by...as we listened to stories of people being 'disappeared' and worse. I remembered the women who were murdered on Dec. 2, 1980. I remembered the words that Jean Donovan wrote in the weeks before her murder and it was as though I could feel her presence in the room telling me that, no matter what happened, things would be ok. I understood in that moment why she couldn't leave---because I knew in that moment that if I had been her, I couldn't have left, either.
We left Aguilares later that day, but I will never forget the people we met, their stories, and their courage.
Today I remember Jean Donovan and her companions, martyred in El Salvador thirty years ago. I pray to have even a small amount of her courage and faith.