El Salvador: Revisiting the Land of Martyrs


Sister Margie Craig goes to El Salvador for the 35th anniversary

of the murders of four missionary churchwomen. 

By Mary Flick, CSJ

Sister Margie Craig remembers Dec. 2, 1980 vividly. A 26-year-old who had just made temporary profession, she was teaching fifth grade at her first assignment, Holy Angels Grade School, in Indianapolis. That evening, she heard news out of El Salvador that four churchwomen – Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clark, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay volunteer Jean Donovan – had been murdered.

“It really shook me,” she recalls, still feeling the shock 35 years later

So when she received a phone call from Province Leader Sister Maureen Freeman last March, inviting her to represent the St. Louis province at the LCWR-SHARE El Salvador observance of the martyrs’ death anniversaries in December, she became one of 117 women religious and supporters who traveled to El Salvador. And she was among the 13 CSSJ sisters and associates who visited the sites of the El Salvadoran martyrs.

“I’ve been giving mission talks for Peru for 20 years,” she notes. “There was a time in my life when I even though about being a missionary.  But I never dreamed of going to El Salvador.”

S. Margie has had a growing love for Latino people for most of her vowed life. A year after novitiate, she went to Tijuana, Mexico with a group formed by Sister Rosemary O’Malley and worked with the children who lived in the garbage dump there. “The kids would go to the dump to find something to eat or things of value to sell,” she remembers. “We had a two-room school with a bathroom, but no water, electrical lights, but no electricity.”

She taught summer school there for two weeks. It was an experience she never forgot. As a result, S. Margie asked to work with the Hispanic population, and continued to improve her Spanish. She is conversant in her second language, and that served her well during her eight days in El Salvador, as she heard first-hand testimonies by people who knew the four churchwomen

Today, El Salvador is the most violent country in the world not at war. Some of the most atrocious violence occurred during the Salvadoran Civil War in which 75,000 were assassinated or were “disappeared” between 1980 and 1992.

S. Margie and her delegation visited The Monument to Truth and Memory in a central San Salvador park. It lists the names of 30,000 of those souls. While there, each delegate was given three names to find, an exercise that served to portray the enormous sense of loss.

The group also visited the site of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s martyrdom on March 24, 1980, listening to the sisters there share the story of his assassination in the chapel where it occurred. They also visited the garden at the University of Central America where six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter were martyred on Nov. 16, 1989.

For the travelers, standing in the place of the churchwomen’s assassinations (which has been officially declared a Historical Site by the El Salvadoran Ministry of External Relations) was especially significant. But for S. Margie, the most sacred time was on the road to it. Three busloads drove the rickety roads, riding in silence for the last 20 minutes of the trip to the place where the women were murdered.

“I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for them, to be stopped on this isolated road, to get out of their van and to experience the horrors that followed,” she says. “I had an eerie feeling in my gut and I thought, ‘this is what they went through, trying to do good.’”

S. Margie was especially touched by the deep faith of the local people they met, especially the women and mothers who lost children, spouses, siblings or parents. One woman, in particular, stood out for her. Two of her sons had been assassinated and two more were “disappeared.”  S. Margie, speaking in Spanish, expressed her sympathy to this mother. “She said to me, ‘We mourn together, as you have lost your Sisters!’

“All I could think was, “Wow! She is not thinking just about her loss, but about our loss. The people’s faith, hope and passion for life and human rights was truly an inspiration to me.”

S. Margie felt a great sense of hope amid the great poverty and injustice as well.

“These people who lost nearly everything, offered us the little they had, their simple food, their memories and stories, their strong faith, love and passion for life,” she says. “But they said to us, ‘Your coming to visit us makes us feel important!’ We, who in comparison are rich, were humbled to receive all that they offered from their hearts.”

For S. Margie, it was an honor and a privilege to represent the CSJ community. “It made me proud to be a Sister of St. Joseph. We are for the dear neighbor, and it all seemed to fit, to have an experience like this. I have no sense of where I’ll go with this. But I know I carry the people in my heart.”


original post 2/5/16, updated 2/22/16

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