Deacon reflects on evangelization of history
By Deacon Lou Jakub | Special Contributor
This past January, I was fortunate to participate in a 12-day pilgrimage sponsored and led by Maryknoll missionaries to Guatemala and El Salvador.
While there, we visited the sites and shrines of many modern-day Central American martyrs. These included St. Oscar Romero, fourth archbishop of San Salvador who was canonized in Rome in October 2018; Blessed Father Stanley Rother, the first declared American martyr who was beatified in Oklahoma City in 2017; the site of the martyrdom of four religious women, including two Maryknoll sisters in 1980; the site at the University of Central America where six Jesuits and their companions were killed, and the site of the martyrdom of Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera, who was killed in 1998.
Related: El Salvador, Guatemala pilgrimage sheds light on lives of missionaries
At these sites where these men and women lived and died, we prayed, celebrated Mass, sang verses from the song “Holy Ground” and shared our own experiences. We heard the stories of their individual histories, not only of their activities in service to the poor but also of the struggles they had in their own lives.
In a sense, these men and women were everyday people – but people responding to their own unique call to holiness. The backdrop for all these sites and shrines was the awareness of the thousands of unrecognized or little-known catechists, and religious and laymen and laywomen from these places who also gave their lives in seeking, through hardships, to follow the truths of their faith and love for the other.
What really brought this pilgrimage alive and will continue to do so, I pray, was the presence of the five Maryknoll priests and one brother who journeyed with us. These men were not simply tour guides. Five of the six had made a gift of their lives, each spending about four decades in missionary work in Central America. The fifth had a missionary history in Africa.
Their lives are currently gifts to others. Their witness to us was their personal knowledge of those they personally knew, worked with, prayed with, broke bread with and shared in the struggles of these martyrs of Central America. While we certainly revere the history of our Church and of the saints and martyrs of prior centuries, this journey grounded me in the activities of today’s missionary Church in our current history through the presence of these men.
We know the quote “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In Guatemala City at the rectory garage, site of the martyrdom of Bishop Gerardi, there is a beautiful multi-wall mural graphically displaying the history of St. Oscar Romero, Father Rother, the four religious women, Bishop Gerardi and others in a difficult period in this country’s history. After studying this mural, I noticed the following wall depicts something different, almost inconspicuous – seeds.
The Maryknollers on this pilgrimage challenged us not only to “come and see” but also to “go and tell.” I guess they challenged us to help spread the seeds.
Deacon Lou Jakub serves in Our Lady of Hope Parish, West Long Branch.