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Moving the bell

The sale of over ten acres of Milltown Park last year necessitated a great deal of work on the remaining grounds, particularly the restructuring of the sewage and drainage systems. But above ground a more noble task was required too. The El Salvador bell, erected to commemorate the six Jesuits and two women colleagues who were murdered in San Salvador’s Central American University in 1989, had to be relocated. It has now been given a more monumental setting next to the Curia offices. In its old location a thick hedge had begun to encroach on its space, detracting from its visual impact. It looks much grander now in its new location. Engraved across the bell, which sits behind vertical bars, is the legend “They will never silence us”.

One of the six murdered Jesuits, Amando López, studied in the Milltown Institute and was ordained in the chapel there in 1965. Another of them, Ignacio Ellacuría, renowned for his work on liberation theology, also had a strong Irish connection, having made his Tertianship at Rathfarnham Castle. They and their companions were identified as subversives by the military junta which ruled El Salvador and was engaged in a 12-year civil war against the left-wing National Liberation Front. An elite unit of the national army was assigned the task of eliminating the Jesuits who lived on the campus of the Jesuit university where they worked. In Ellacuría’s words, their task at the university was to address “the original violence of structural injustice in the country, which violently maintains through economic, social, political and cultural structures, the majority of the population in a situation of permanent violation of their human rights”. But Ellacuría, in particular, had also been critical in efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the civil war. Still, the Jesuits’ public advocacy of the poor had made them a target. The murders were made to look like the work of the rebel Front, supposedly punishing informers.

Two plaques, which adorned the plinth beneath the bell sculpture in its previous location, have now been set into the wall behind it. One of these commemorates the six Jesuits, their housekeeper Julia Elba Ramos and her 16-year-old daughter Celina. The other commemorates another Salvadoran martyr, also slain brutally by the national army – Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was canonised as a martyr in October 2018 by Pope Francis.