December 2, 1980... Twenty eight years ago armed masked men, on orders of the Salvadoran military officials who had been trained at the "School of the Americas" on the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning (Columbus, GA), raped and murdered Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Missioner Jean Donovan, missionaries who lived and worked among the Salvadoran people, side by side, in response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through their lives and their deaths, they willingly and knowingly and unreservedly accepted "the same fate of the poor" (this is the title of a biography of Ita Ford published by Orbis Books).
There is an entire generation or two that has no personal knowledge of that fateful night on a dark road traveling from the San Salvador Airport to Chalatenango. Yet the legacy of these women's lives and the truth about their deaths and the promise of hope that lives on because of who they remain continues to inspire and motivate because even though twenty-eight years has passed still each year countless numbers of us pause deliberately to remember them, to remember Archbishop Romero, to remember the tens of thousands disappeared and murdered, and the 100,000s of displaced.
This year's anniversary of the rape and murder of is different than all those of year's past: this year the anniversary comes and Ita's brother Bill, who immediately following her death, took up the cause of truth and fight for justice in El Salvador, died earlier this year following a battle with cancer. Surrounded by his beloved wife and children, he closed his eyes to this world and without a doubt when he opened his eyes in the next he was immediately welcomed home by Ita whom he so dearly loved and missed.
As we celebrate the lives of these women, let us also give thanks in particular for the witness and courage of the Ford, Clark, Kazel, and Donovan families and the Maryknoll and Ursuline communities and especially for the multiple ways in which Bill in particular challenged us in the same way he challenged himself to walk the walk. Bill, may you rest in peace and in the embrace of our most loving God may you enjoy seeing Ita once again face-to-face! And may your spirit, along with Maura, Ita, Dorothy, and Jean, remain with us in our struggles for peace and justice always reminding us to never forget the people of El Salvador who still today need our "accompanimiento."