2009 El Savador Memorial for Jesuit Martyrs (BBC photo)

2009 El Savador Memorial for the Martyrs of 1989 (BBC photo)



Introductory notes by Dennis Rivers, Editor,


In contemplating the lives of those who have lived and died for the love of others, and for the love of God in and through others, we are invited to reflect on the way each of these persons sought to embody courage, compassion and deep truthfulness.

Giving thanks for the lives of these great souls brings us close to one of life’s great mysteries:   While the help we give with our hands may only reach those we touch with our hands, the love with which we give that help can travel far beyond the lives of those who first receive it. The inspiration of courageous and creative compassion travels from heart to heart like a candle flame lighting many other candles.  There is no limit to how many candles will be lit, or will light others.

My experience has been that profound integrity travels beyond the life of the person who embodies it, and joins our souls with the soul of that person in some sort of life-changing process of resonance.  This is my experience of grace.  As we give thanks for the lives of these great souls, and mourn their deaths at the hands of violent men, we open ourselves to receive the light that came through them, and we open ourselves to bring forth that light of endless compassion into the world around us.  At one level, their lives were taken from them.  At another level, they gave their integrity and love into our keeping.  Both levels are true.  These different truths are points along the way… of a pilgrimage of gratitude and remembrance.


“I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the hearts of the Salvadoran people.”


Four Churchwomen — American martyrs in El Salvador Sr. Maura Clark, M.M. Jean Donovan Sr. Ita Ford, M.M. Sr. Dorthy Kazel, O.S.U.



Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa — Nigerian Muslim ecology and human rights activist, murdered by the Nigerian government for resisting the exploitation and ruin of the Ogoni homeland by the Shell Oil Company. 





Francisco Alves (Chico) Mendes Filho  —  President of the Xapuri Rural Worker’s Union in Brazil.  Chico Mendes was a brave and persistent rubber tapper who challenged the people and institutions responsible for the devastation of the rainforest. Mendes galvanized local and inter- national support for his vision of a self-sustaining economy of the Amazon, but he enraged powerful enemies.


The Blessed Franz Jaegerstaetter (1907-1943) – a devoutly Catholic Austrian farmer who refused, on the basis of the teachings of Jesus, to serve in Hitler’s army. He was executed by the Nazis on August 9, 1943.  The story of his heroic integrity, not popular in a region where most men obediently went to war and most priests argued in favor of doing so, was rescued from oblivion in the 1960s by sociologist and writer Gordon Zahn in the book: In Solitary Witness: The life and death of Franz Jägerstätter.

(Also see remembrance by Jesuit peace activist John Dear.)

On June 1, 2007, the Vatican officially recognized his death as an act of spiritual faithfulness and confirmed him as a martyr of the Church. His beatification took place in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Linz, Austria, on October 26, 2007.

Short biography from the Diocese of Linz

Long biography from the Diocese of Linz

Franz Jaegerstaetter: The courage to love, and to say “no” with transformative compassion when the authorities of one’s time are mistaken

Civil Rights Martyrs in the United States in the 1960s:




Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching on the theme of “We Shall Overcome”


On 16 June 1966, at the Zion Baptist Church in Los Angeles, Reverend Martin Luther King gave a simple, brief speech. It took as its theme the resonant line of the folk song central that had become central to the soundtrack of the civil rights movement in the United States: We Shall Overcome. But Dr. King does not just exhort the hopeful prediction of triumph; he explains why social justice is inevitable: “We shall overcome because the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”



MUSIC: A fifty-year-old song of gratitude for the civil rights protesters of the 1960s.  “Thirsty Boots,”  recorded by Eric Anderson in 1966.

You’ve long been on the open road,
you’ve been sleepin’ in the rain.
From dirty words, and muddy cells
your clothes are soiled and stained.

But the dirty words, and the mud of cells,
will soon be judged insane,
So only stop and rest yourself,
and you’ll be off again.

Oh, take off your thirsty boots and stay for a while
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile
And maybe I can make you laugh, and maybe I can try
Just lookin’ for the evenin’ and the mornin’ in your eyes

Then tell me of the ones you saw as far as you can see,
across the plains from field to town marchin’ to be free
And of the rusted prison gates that tumble by degree
Like laughing children one by one they look like you and me

Oh take off your thirsty boots and stay for a while
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile
And maybe I can make you laugh
and maybe I can try
Just lookin’ for the evenin’ and the mornin’ in your eyes

I know you are no stranger down the crooked rainbow trail
from dancing cliff edge shattered sills to slander shackled jails
where the voices drift up from below as walls are being scaled
yes all of this and more my friend
your song shall not be failed

Oh take off your thirsty boots and stay for a while
Your feet are hot and weary from a dusty mile
And maybe I can make you laugh
And maybe I can try
Just lookin’ for the evenin’
And the mornin’ in your eyes.

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