Former Jesuit Seminarian Congressman Cao Talks About the Lasting Legacy of the Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador

caoAnh “Joseph” Cao is the current U.S. Representative from Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district and was the only Republican to vote for the Affordable Health Care for America Act on November 7, 2009. Last December, Cao defeated nine-term Democratic U.S. Representative William Jefferson, in a district that hasn’t elected a Republican since 1890.

A Vietnamese-born lawyer, the first Vietnamese-American to be elected to Congress, and a former Jesuit seminarian, Cao talked with National Jesuit News about why he spoke in support of a recent House bill commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. On today’s anniversary of the murders of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador 20 years ago, we are publishing the interview with Cao on what the legacy of the Jesuit martyrs has meant to him.

Tomorrow, we will publish more from our interview with Cao, including his answers to using the Ignatian process of discernment in reaching tough decisions as a U.S. congressman, how those decisions are grounded in his background in Ignatian spirituality and why he didn’t chose the party line in voting for landmark health care reform.

National Jesuit News:You recently spoke in support of H.Res. 761 to commemorate the lives and work of the Jesuits and their housekeepers who were killed 20 years ago in El Salvador. During your speech, you mentioned that they had greatly impacted you and your decision to become a Jesuit. Can you talk about their legacy and their impact on you?

Cao: It was 1989 when that happened, and I was a junior in college then. And I was discerning at that time whether to become a priest. When I read the news about the Jesuits in El Salvador and what they were doing, I basically decided at that moment that I would want to join the Society of Jesus because of the courage of these priests, these people that worked in a foreign land, to become missionaries, to do the will of God in those foreign lands, it just really touched me. I believe it was at that particular part of my life when I decided, yes, this is what I want to be and I contacted a Jesuit that I knew and asked him what was the process to enter the Society.

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