On a bright Saturday morning, I sat in the Rose Garden above Centro Monseñor Romero at the Jesuit Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador. I looked at the roses, imagining what took place that dreadful morning of Nov. 16, 1989 in the upper part of the Jesuit residence at UCA and dreaming about what these roses signify in the lives of Salvadorans, in humanity and in my own life.

Sitting in silence, I cried as the images flipped through my head of the murdered bodies of six Jesuit priests — Ignacio Ellacuría, Amando López, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Joaquín López y López — and their housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celina. Dragged out of their room in their undergarments and pajamas and ordered to lie down on the lawn with their faces in the ground, five of the Jesuits were killed with multiple bullets, destroying their bodies. López y López was then killed in his rooms; and Elba and Celina Ramos were shot multiple times.

A United Nations Truth Commission concluded after the war that the Salvadoran government was behind the planning and execution of these murders. Having been in a civil war for nearly a decade, the military needed to find a way to halt the opposition force, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Assumed to be “intellectuals” supporting the FMLN, the Jesuits were obvious problems as far as the military was concerned. The order to carry out the assassination was given by Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, commander of the special military zone near UCA. The Truth Commission also uncovered that 19 of the 26 soldiers involved in the UCA massacre were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Ga.

I, along with thousands of others, will gather this weekend at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice here in Washington, D.C. We will commemorate these Jesuit martyrs and their companions who understood that love of the poor was to guide all their actions in fighting for justice. These martyrs were killed because they told the government that its treatment of the poor was unjust, that the violence used to silence those who spoke out was inhumane and that privilege and that power cannot be used to squash the vulnerable or marginalized. This weekend, we gather to celebrate their lives and recognize that we, too, are called to give ourselves for others, as Ignatius of Loyola taught. We are to give and not count the cost, fight and not heed the wounds, toil and not seek reward. We do all that we do for the greater glory of God and for all of humanity.

We are inherently connected to the Jesuits’ work at UCA and, ultimately, their martyrdom. Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., president of UCA, believed that the core of his university is the convergence of reason and faith, which allows us to see the reality of the world around us, especially the suffering of the poor. We, as a university engaging that same tension, are called to use our privilege and position to help those on the margins. Banners proclaiming this “Spirit of Georgetown” fill our campus. We are called to live these values.

As I concluded my meditation in the garden, I reflected on the significance of the deaths of the Jesuits and their companions. Roses were planted at the place where they died as a sign of hope and a challenge to future generations. We are called on to provide hope for the world, to fight for justice in the promotion of faith and to love in a limitless way those close to us and those we will never know. Eight people who answered this call were killed because of it. Their example should be an inspiration to us as we strive to imitate their generosity of spirit and self.

The challenge is in front of us. We must allow the sometimes uncomfortable reality of the world into our lives. We need to know it and to respond to it. The role of the university is to prepare us and to inspire us to undertake our human mission. By engaging the tension between faith and reason, we, as students, can begin to see the world as it is. By acting in pursuit of justice, we can begin to make the world as it should be, bonded by a solidarity of love and a generosity of spirit.

MATTHEW IPPEL is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. He is coordinator of Georgetown’s delegation to the 2012 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.

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