Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 20, 2006
Missionaries gave their lives for Guatemalan flock
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Back in the early 1980s, Spanish Father Juan Alonzo of Spain, a member of the Missionary Congregation of the Sacred Heart, had celebrated Mass at Chicam n early one morning. He had planned to leave for Cunen, which he also served, along with probably another 60 or so communities.
He travelled with a motor bicycle on primitive trails and he was nearing the barancos (cliffs) of Cunen, some three-hour drive from Chicam n, where I now live, when he was hit by a flurry of bullets. He did not die immediately.
Members of the Guatemalan army had been waiting for him to show up. They found him to be seriously wounded. They finished him off with three bullets in the head. This took place in July 1982 when Father Alonzo was 48 years old.
Within a few months, two other Missionaries of the Sacred Heart were dispatched in similar fashion. Father Jose Maria Gran Cirera, age 35, was killed at Chajul after five years of ministry in Guatemala. Father Faustino Villanueva was murdered similarly by soldiers after 21 years of ministry in Guatemala.
The 1980s were very violent years as General Garcia's so-called government was destroying its own people instead of working for them.
The Catholic Church in particular was targeted as the enemy of the government.
I spoke about this with our new bishop, Mario Alberto Molina. Talking with him I specifically asked why the government of the time decided to systematically target three missionary priests, killing them in cold blood.
What had the government to gain by killing these missionaries whose specific concern was the well being of some of the poorest people on the planet?
The bishop replied, saying the government of the time wanted to send a strong message to Rome and to the Catholic bishops of Guatemala.
At stake were the social teachings of the Church that challenged the injustices to the poor, the negative social conditions and the violent policies of the government of the time.
The popes' social encyclicals pleaded for justice and the liberation of peoples. These encyclicals are the foundation and the clear voice of the Vatican's vision of how governments should respond to the needs of the people of the day in a just and peaceful fashion, treating people with decency and respect as well as equality.
Recently there was a great celebration in honour of Father Alonzo at Lacentillo, another parish of the Quiche Diocese. Our bishop came and visited with us in Chicam n on his way to Lacentillo, and the next day we drove there ourselves.
It was a three-hour drive, with roads varying from the barely OK to the disastrous.
However, our pick-up never even blinked an eye as I had it cross rivers and roads with mud and ruts unseen by Canadian eyes since the '50s.
Challenging as it was, the trip was worthwhile as it was an occasion for a great two-day celebration, honouring Alonzo and his two peers who gave their lives in order to bring good news of justice, love, dedication and service to the poor.
The tree of faith
I had been told Alonzo had planted two ceiba trees in front of the Lacentillo church 45 years ago.
And when we arrived at the church, there it was, the one surviving Ceiba, six feet in diameter and perhaps more, and some 75 feet tall.
The other tree perished a few years ago of unknown causes.
I paused by that giant witness of service given by a holy man who loved God's gifts of nature, who could appreciate life and who did not hesitate to give it all 45 years earlier when he revved up his motor bike and headed out to the Cunen people he served as well as countless other communities in this vast area.
He went, knowing the danger that awaited him.
And like his master, he did not hesitate to shed his blood so that others might live in peace and harmony.
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