Processing my experiences of injustice

Miles Tiemeyer is a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public major. He is a guest writer for the Newswire from Cincinnati.

The Ignatian Family Teach In for Justice (IFTJ) is the largest social justice conference in the United States. Hosted by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, IFTJ is a gathering of more than 2,000 members of the Ignatian family.

This IFTJ was special. This past weekend was the 30th anniversary of the Jesuit Martyrs at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador. The victims were murdered for speaking out about the injustice happening around them.

In 1989, El Salvador was going through a bloody civil war. The Salvadorian government viewed the Jesuits at the UCA as “fully identified with subversive movements.” Jesuits spoke out about the conditions of the poor who were disproportionately affected by the war. The martyrs were considered rebels simply for living their faith.

The Jesuits did what God needed them to do and they were brutally murdered for it. It is important that we remember and speak their names: Ignacio Ellacuria Beas Coechea S.J.; Ignacio Martín-Baró S.J.; Segundo Montes, S.J.; Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J.; Joaquín López y López, S.J.; Amando López, S.J.; Elba Ramos, their housekeeper; and Celina Ramos, her 16-year-old daughter.

The “elite” unit of soldiers responsible for the murders was trained at the School of the Americas run by the U.S. Army. The U.S. was directly responsible for training these murderers.

Alumni from the School of the Americas are also responsible for the death of St. Oscar Romero and other Jesuits across Central America. People mourn and memorialize the martyrs (see the memorial on the side of Bellarmine Chapel) but that isn’t enough.

A group of Jesuits and their companions began to protest outside Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the School of Americas is run, now operating as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Their small protest grew in size as students and others began to show up in greater numbers. The protest was an opportunity for the Ignatian family to come together to mourn, learn and advocate. This gathering at Ft. Benning grew into a larger and larger event, becoming the IFTJ that we know today.

The teach-in has evolved into being one of the leading forces in Catholic social justice. Each year, the it focuses on two issues. This year the issues were migration justice and climate justice. These two issues can seem overwhelming and, to be honest, I am still processing what I’ve learned. I want to share two quotes that will stay with me forever.

“Today we share our food. Tomorrow we share our hunger.”

My favorite speaker from IFTJ was Sister Peggy O’Neill the founder of Centro Arte para la Paz (Center of Arts for Peace) in Suchitoto, El Salvador. Sister Peggy has lived in El Salvador for more than 30 years. She was living and working there during the civil war and like the Jesuits, was often persecuted by the military.

One night when they were running from the military, she and two other women got separated from the larger group. One of the women was a new mother and was the only one with any food. She immediately offered the food to her two companions. Sister Peggy and the other woman refused, saying she would need her strength for the baby, but the mother remained strong and said, “Today we share our food. Tomorrow we share our hunger.”

This simple act is the complete embodiment of solidarity. This woman was willing to share everything she had even if it meant that tomorrow she would have nothing. She was living as Christ would have. This is something that we should all strive for.

“They didn’t write this in the Bible, but Jesus slept too.”

So often people working for justice feel overwhelmed. They see the injustices around them and know how much has to be done. Burnout is a very real and common problem among justice seekers.

This quote is something that resonates with me. Sometimes the injustice around me feels insurmountable and inevitable. I feel like I need to be constantly working and thinking about paths to justice, yet we have to remember to take care of ourselves. If Jesus stopped to sleep, so can we.