Jon Sobrino, S.J.
May 6, 1990
Jon Sobrino is a Jesuit priest and professor of Theology at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador. He gave this Regis commencement address and was awarded an honorary doctorate just months after the assassination at the UCA of his fellow Jesuits and fellow professors by an army death squad. Sobrino escaped assassination only because he happened to be giving a lecture in Thailand at the time of the murders.
Senior Meghan Stewart was the student commencement speaker at the May, 1990 graduation.
Thank you, Fr. Clarke. Dear brothers and sisters, I accept this honor with gratitude and humility in the name of my six brother Jesuits and their cook and her daughter who were murdered, as you know, on November 16th last year, and also, if I may say so, in the name of the whole Salvadoran people. I say I accept it with humility because my own merits are small compared to the merits of the Jesuits, especially the great love they showed in their death; and I accept it with gratitude because in honoring me your honor, as I say, them and the Salvadoran people. And it’s also a sign that Regis, all of you, and especially the class of 1990, are committed to the cause and to the goals of those Jesuits.
So I will say a few words about who these Jesuits were as human beings, as Christians, and as university men. And I must say I have been encouraged to talk about these things which are very, very important – but of course at times it’s not very pleasant to listen to them – I have been encouraged by the words of Meagan Stewart, if I have her name right. What she has told you, in brief words, is the same thing I am going to tell you right now.
So let me start by saying that what I appreciate most of those Jesuits is that they were human beings. You know these days, and especially today, you thing, and rightly so, of being successful in life. And all of us wish you that. Well, maybe I’m not as young as you are anymore, and I’ve come to the conviction that being successful in life is being human. And being human means, I would say first of all, to live in the real world in which we live. And that’s what these Jesuits did. They were outstanding intellectuals, you know, but they lived in the real world. And the world of El Salvador – you know or you should know, if I may say so – is a world of absolute and terrible poverty, a poverty which means that a majority of the Salvadorans don’t take life for granted, as you do and as I do; a poverty which means that the majority of the Salvadorans live near to death, real physical death, because unjust structures don’t produce enough for the majority to live. And they also live very, very near to death when the poor simply want to cease to be poor, and when they organize themselves. And you might know the figures – in El Salvador 70,000 people have been assassinated in the last ten years. Well, in this real word, incarnated themselves these Jesuits, and that’s a sin that they were human, that they didn’t live – although they could have done so – in an island within this planet, but they shared the reality of the majority of human beings. And, although this might not sound as a very good quote in a wonderful day like it is today, I will say what Archbishop Romero, another great human being who was murdered ten years ago, said. He said, “I am happy, brothers and sisters, that priests are being killed in El Salvador, since it would be very sad that in a country in which so many, many people have been assassinated, priests would not be assassinated.” Well, the words are very powerful, but what was he saying? That priests in this case, are really Salvadoran, live in the reality of the country and share the destiny of the Salvadorans.
About these Jesuits I also want to say that they were believers, and I don’t think we should take that for granted. I don’t think you should take for granted that we Jesuits are good believers. But they believed, not in any god, not in the god of civil religion, for example; they believed in the God of Jesus Christ, in the God of Life, in the God of the Poor, as we say down in El Salvador. And because they believed in this type of God, a God who listens to the cry of the oppressed people around history and around the world, they also were atheists of the idols of our days. You know there are idols. Maybe the Western World has played a trick on us as if idolatry would be a thing of the past, of people ignorant (I don’t want to sound ironic, but let me say so), of people who didn’t have the privilege and opportunity to come to Regis, therefore they were ignorant and they worshipped idols. Well, unfortunately, idols are not things of the past. They are very present in our world today; they are present in my country of El Salvador, and they are present in your own country o the United States. Archbishop Romero used to say that idols are “accumulation of wealth, so much so that the few have more than enough and the majority have almost nothing.” He also said that [another of the idols is] National Security, and the essence of idolatry is that when idols are worshipped, you know, when wealth or National Security are worshipped, then victims are produced in our world.
These Jesuits were also Christians. As good Jesuits they tried to follow Jesus Christ, as St. Ignatius asked us to do. And I think they did. They announced the Kingdom of God for the poor of this world. They announced the will of God that everybody on this planet live as brothers and sister. They made the option for the poor, as Jesus did, and they understood their lives from that option, trying to support, to defend the poor of this world. And they died as Jesus. So I think they were good Christians. And maybe you are – I don’t know – surprised that I talk about those things – Jesuits being human and being Christians 9I haven’t mentioned yet in what they had doctorates, or anything like that) – but I say this because I think the world in which we live, what it really needs, is humanity and faith. So, although these Jesuits were murdered and it’s not nice to think about that, that’s Good News for the world today and for you, and especially for you young men and women who are graduating today. The Good News is the following: it is possible to be human in this world. It is possible to be Christian in this world.
And they were also University people. I don’t have time to read the pages that I wrote on the, but I’ll say briefly that they developed a new idea of what a University, and a Christian University, should be. Fr. Ellacuria, the President of the University, a philosopher, a theologian, a political analyst, wrote long, long pages on this new theory of a University. But in simple words it comes down to this. He said, “a University, of course, has to do with knowledge, culture, the use of reason, educating others.” And that’s accepted by everybody. But he added, “the University is also a social force within social reality,” so that, whether we like it or not, by the very fact that we are a University, and that you are University students, you become a social force. And then he said, “in El Salvador” – but this is true of the third world and this is true of the majority of humankind – “the social reality in which we live is a reality in which poverty has predominance over abundance, lies have a predominance over truth, oppression has predominance over liberty, evil has predominance over good.” And if this is the case, if the University is a social force, the finality of the university – besides training students, or course – is to change and transform this reality of ours which, in strong words, is a reality more of death than of life: to transform it into a reality which a reality more of life than of death. Now if this is the case, then these Jesuits said it’s very important for the University – and for you students – to really verify whether we introduce justice – and don’t get mad at me – or injustice into society; whether we introduce grace or sin into society.
So a Christian University is first of all a University which undergoes conversion. If I say this in more positive terms, a Christian University should be guided by the ideal of the Reign of God. And the Reign of God, in simple words, is a reality of the world in which first of all, life is possible for everybody, and not as it is today on our planet; and that human relations are not like superpowers and then the backyard, [but] human relations of all countries, as brothers and sisters. The Reign of God presupposes the anti-reign of God, the reality of our planet today; and you know what it is, I’ve said that before, it is poverty, it is injustice. But it is more than that: it is a culture which dehumanizes, which makes us believe that being individuals will be more, whereas community, I think, is the solution to the problem of being humans. So a University should fight actively against what is the anti-reign of God.
I will also say that a University should make the option for the poor. I think Jesus Christ made the option for the poor and God himself made the option for the poor. That doesn’t mean that a University doesn’t need and must use physical resources. A University needs money. Of course. It means that as a University, and I suggest that you students of 1990, that you look at the totality of our reality not from the tope but from below. I am sure you’ll learn more – more about your own country, the United States – if you once go to the Hispanics, or to the Black community, or whatever. You’ll see more and better, and that’s important for a University to look at the totality from below, from the poor of this world, and that’s making an option for the poor. I will also say that to a Christian University it belongs essentially, the openness at least, being ready for some sort of – what should I call it on a beautiful day like this – well, or persecution, of threats, of being into conflict. If a Christian University never, never, never gets into some sort of serious conflict with those who have power in this world, it is not a Christian University. These Jesuits who were killed show, or course, in their own being murdered, that the University in El Salvador was persecuted. But you might know that those murders were only a culmination of fifteen years of bombs exploding in our campus, at the printing house, at the administration building, at the computer center, at the library, of bombs which exploded on four occasions in our private house. So I know it’s not a very nice thought, but I would say, “how is it possible to be a human being on this planet, to be a Christian on this planet, and to be really a University, human and Christian, on this planet, if the powers of this world never react against us?”
So, just to end, I would like to [say to] all of you, to the 1990 class, honestly and sincerely, I congratulate you. I understand how happy you are, how you shout. Okay. But if I’m honest with you, the best thing I have to offer to you is the example of these Jesuits. I hope, whatever you do in life, you are moved by that type of human being and Christian. And to the University as such I hope and I would ask that you don’t forget the third world. So Meagan Stewart said there are local problems and global problems. Obviously a University has to deal with local problems, but if the global problems of the world are ignored, I think the solution for the local problems will be wrong. So I ask, really, the University to look at the whole world, to look at our world down in El Salvador, and since this is a Jesuit University, I want to reformulate the words which Ignatius of Loyola told us at the end of the meditation on sin: that we kneel down before the crucifix and ask ourselves three questions: What have we done, what are we doing and what are we going to do? Well I think for a University, and for the Churches, and for everybody, we should look at the crucified peoples today and ask ourselves, “what have we done, so that they are on the cross? What are we doing? And what are we going to do to bring them down from the cross?”
So my final word is again to congratulate you, and Regis University, to share your joy, your enthusiasm, that you will show today, and also to show that I hope because this honor which has been awarded to me is assign that this University and its graduates really want to commit themselves to the most wonderful cause of all in this world; peace ad justice for all. And for all of that, I thank you.