On December 2, 1980, four US women missionaries were killed in El Salvador by government forces.
The only crime of Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan was to have worked with the poor.
But theirs was not a work done from a distance, distributing goods to the poor – though they did provide material assistance to the many Salvadorans displaced by governmental repression in the face of an impending civil war.
As Jesus fed the crowds (Matthew 15: 29-37) and Isaiah revealed God’s promise of rich food and choice wines (Isaiah 25: 6-10), these women lived among the poor, served them, and sat at their tables – sharing the rich food of tortillas and beans.
But to give food to the poor can be a crime. It can awaken in them the vision of a world where all can sit down together at the table of the Lord.
But these women were not political activists, as some US government officials said in an effort to undermine their witness and to support military aid to the repressive Salvadoran government.
No. Their work was based in their faith, in their love of a God who had compassion on the crowds and fed them.
When the Peace Corps was withdrawn from El Salvador, Jean Donovan reiterated her decision to stay and be with the people:
Several times I have decided to leave—I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy…. Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.
She, as the other women, had accompanied the people and been converted to the God who takes the side of the poor.
They worshipped a God who became flesh, not in the palace of a king but in a humble manger.
They worshipped a God who had no place to lay his head – and who was killed for offering the people real life in God’s Reign, not the substitute kingdoms of wealth, power, influence.
They worshipped a God who is Love.
And that love is subversive.