Pope Francis remembered this week four American women who were martyred in El Salvador 40 years ago as examples of being “faithful missionary disciples.”
In his weekly general audience in the Vatican on Dec. 2, the pontiff recalled the missionary women who were killed because of their work with the poor.
“They were offering their services during the civil war and they were bringing food and medicine to those who had to flee, especially to the families that were the poorest,” the pope said.
The women were killed on Dec. 2, 1980, ten months after the start of the civil war in El Salvador, and eight months since the murder of Salvadorian Archbishop, now saint, Oscar Romero.
Sister Ita Ford, 40, and Sister Maura Clarke, 49, were both Maryknoll Sisters from New York; Sister Dorothy Kazel, 40, an Ursuline Sister from Cleveland; and Jean Donovan, 27, a lay missionary who was engaged to be married, also from Cleveland were raped and murdered by five members of the El Salvadoran National Guard.
The four were seen as a threat to the military-led junta government and were accused by the regime of fomenting political opposition.
“They were kidnapped, raped and killed by a group of paramilitary forces,” recalled Pope Francis.
“These women lived their faith with great generosity. They are an example for all of us to become faithful missionary disciples,” he said.
Media reports on the incident said the paramilitary stopped the vehicle of the missionaries after leaving the airport. The women were taken to an isolated spot where they were beaten, raped, and killed.
Farmers who lived nearby where the women were taken reported seeing the women’s white van drive to an isolated spot, followed by the sound of machine guns being fired. Five men were later spotted leaving the scene in the same white van.
The women’s bodies were found in a ditch the next day. Authorities then ordered farmers to bury the bodies in a nearby mass grave nearby.
The women are remembered each year on the anniversary of their death.
More than 8,000 people were reported killed during the first year of the civil war in El Salvador that lasted 12 years and left over 75,000 people dead.