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“The Jesuits in El Salvador saved lives with their actions, but more with their death”

Fr. José María Tojeira was provincial of the Jesuits in Central America when Ignacio Ellacuría and five other Jesuits were killed in El Salvador.

He was sleeping in a house only some 40 yards away from them when the army attacked. He said they spent 20 minutes shooting and used every weapon imaginable, including an anti-tank rocket. The killers claimed that the Jesuits were killed in the crossfire between guerrillas and the army.

Ex-Provincial, Central American Province
They used M-16s, which is the normal North American combat rifle. An AK-47, which is the combat rifle of the then Soviet Union. They even used an M-60 machine gun, which is the kind of machine gun that is placed on the ground and fired with a larger caliber. They threw three grenades…

Fr. José María Tojeira says that they were killed because they were looking to negotiate an end to the civil war while both sides were seeking a military victory. Or also because they denounced the dictatorship’s human rights violations.

Ex-provincial, province of Central America
They said the enemies of the pen, of writing, were more dangerous than those of the rifle.
I believe that during the war the Jesuits saved lives by defending of human rights, but I also believe that they saved more lives through their death than with their previous work.

Their deaths provoked a wave of solidarity and only six months later the first agreement was signed between the army and the guerrillas in El Salvador.

Thirty-three years later, Fr. Tojeira is still demanding reparations, but he is at a crossroads.

Ex-provincial, province of Central America
We want Justice but we don’t want revenge. At 70 years old, why impose a 30-year sentence on a person if there is no way to reduce the sentence?

He also fears that it will serve as a pretext for the murder to be used politically and which could provoke further persecution.



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