Father Jon Cortina narrowly escaped an attempt on his life during the Salvadoran civil war but he refused to let his close call intimidate him. Instead the Jesuit priest continued to teach engineering at the Universidad Centroamericana “Jose Simeon Cañas” (UCA), and to advocate for the destitute and disadvantaged, exposing the exploitation and human rights abuses they suffered. This Sunday,UCA and Salvadoran grassroots organizations will celebrate his remarkable commitment to scholarship and social justice by commemorating the 10th anniversary of his eventual death from a stroke. The memorial will include a photo exhibit at UCA, as well as special Catholic masses in various communities where Father Cortina preached.
The assassination attempt, brutally staged in November 1989, claimed the lives of six other Jesuits teaching at UCA along with the cook in their faculty residence and her daughter, just 16. Father Cortina was away ministering to a rural community at the time the security forces struck. The murdered Jesuit victims, who comprised half of UCA’s faculty had been targeted for speaking out against the oppression and poverty that plagued El Salvador. Father Cortina was assumed to be among the victims, which he learned when he heard his name on a list of casualties broadcast via radio.
When hostilities officially ended, Cortina turned his attention to a special class of victims of the armed conflict: child survivors whom the military removed from massacre sites to be given or sold for adoption. The result of his efforts was IAF grantee Pro Busqueda, which he founded to reunite the families with the children taken from them. To date, Pro Busqueda has documented some 900 incidents of removal and brought closure to more than 380 families torn apart by disappearances. Pro Busqueda uses its IAF grant to offer educational and employment opportunities for these families. For more on Pro Busqueda’s work, watch Ninos de la Memoria (Children of the Memory), a documentary produced by former IAF representative Kathryn Pyle.