Pilgrim's Journal
Bert Thelen, S.J.

Omaha, Friday, November 5th, 1999

The length of my pilgrimage to El Salvador to commemorate the martyrs and to Ft. Benning to protest at the School of the Americas is exactly 8 days, which is the length of a Jesuit's annual retreat.  This sums up how I regard this trip: it is, for me, both a pilgrimage and a retreat.  Of course, I don't know for sure all the people I will meet, but I do know who my companions will be and I do expect to meet God.  It cannot be otherwise: my companions are beloved People of God, pilgrims like myself. The land and people we will be encountering is El Salvador,  the land of Our Savior. Formerly, it was a place of death squads and death; but, washed by the blood of thousands of martyrs, it is a place of Resurrection.  So it embodies the mystery of our faith, the Paschal Mystery: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

I first went to Salvador nine years ago, on the first anniversary of the killing of the six Jesuits and two women.  At that time, I was Provincial of the Wisconsin Province of Jesuits, and I went there with my executive assistant and good friend, John Mace, S.J.,  with Joe Daoust, S.J., provincial of Detroit, and  many other Jesuit companions.  John, Joe, and I were classmates and close friends of Jon Cortina , S.J. and Jon Sobrino, S.J., members of the community that were murdered that night.

Providentially, both of them were absent that night, and there lives were spared.  They have both proven to be strong voices crying out for justice -- very slow in coming, but certain as the dawn.  Being with both of them as they mourned and celebrated their slain brothers was itself a powerful experience.

I wrote back then: "...in commemorating, honoring, and celebrating the deaths of six fellow Jeuits and two women murdered with them, were we not proclaiming the central mystery of our faith?  'Do this in memory of me' was the command of Jesus to us as He prepared to lay down His life for us. To do this remembering on the blood-soaked soil of this tiny but beautiful country was one of the most powerful experiences of my life."

Now, nine years later, I am returning to Salvador.  Yes, it will be different  this time because the situation there is different.  But as I anticipate going back I feel the same sense of solidarity, of longing, and of pilgrimage.  I am praying and hoping that this journey will be not only a source of devotion and inspiration for us, but also of consolation and confirmation for them -- for all those who have suffered such pain, loss, and persecution over the years.  May our coming together ten years after the assassination help to heal the wounds, preserve the sacred memories, and give promise that they did not die in vain.

I ask God that I may be worthy of this opportunity given to me.

In Christ, the strength of martyrs,

Bert, S.J.

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