Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 19, 2007
Priest defied death to shepherd his flock
Now this Guatemalan pastor is ill, needs prayers
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
On Feb. 4, Bishop Alberto Mario Molina of Quiche circulated a note to all the churches in the diocese, announcing a day of prayer for the health of Father Axel Mencos.
In this letter, the bishop mentions that Father Axel has been suffering from illness for a year now that has kept him away from his ministry.
Remember this priest
Lately, this good priest has experienced complications that have slowed down his progress. The bishop invites all priests and lay people to remember him to the Lord in our prayers with thanksgiving to God for this great priest.
I have met Father Axel at priests' meetings, but since we are not of the same area, I don't know him very well. The reason for this is that for the last year or two, Father Axel's illness had kept him from our priests' meetings.
What is most remarkable about Father Axel is that during the years of great violence and slaughter that took place during the civil war of the 1980s, the Diocese of Quiche closed down completely for several years.
Three priests assassinated
Why? Three priests - fathers of Congregation of the Sacred Heart - were assassinated. The government's military people murdered these priests.
In the 1980s, the infamous dictator General Rios Montt was at the head of it all. The first one to die was Father Juan Alonzo who was then living in Chicaman.
His room, at that time, is the room I've been living in for the last two years.
After morning prayers and breakfast, Father Juan got on his motorcycle and left to celebrate Mass in Cunen over an hour away. Shortly before he was to arrive, soldiers who were waiting for him shot him several times. They tortured him. And then shot him dead.
After that incredible attack on the Catholic Church, the local bishop, Julio Cabrera, ordered the priests to pack it in and go to neighbouring countries where they would be safe.
They were to return only when the bishop would tell them to do so. That turned out to be several years later.
All the priests, along with the bishop left, and travelled to nearby countries.
All left, that is, with a single exception. Father Axel Mencos stayed firm, continuing to minister to the people of his parish, as well as neighbouring parishes in the area, all the while knowing his life was on the line.
Father Axel had been previously named vicar general of the diocese, a post he served for 15 years. Perhaps, because of that responsibility, he felt that his duty as the bishop's right hand man was to stay the course during the war, holding the fort as it were, and be a shepherd to his persecuted people.
People still recall with gratitude the courage of that death-defying priest.
Father Axel belonged to the first group of Quiche men to be ordained to the priesthood in our diocese of Quiche. His ordination took place in 1973, when the Fathers of the Sacred Heart were still working in this area. He became the pastor of five huge parishes over the years and then vicar general of the diocese.
A celebrated man
At a recent priests' meeting, I was moved to hear the priests spontaneously sharing their gratitude and various anecdotes concerning Father Axel.
This prompted me to reflect about Canada and the quality of peace and freedom we've enjoyed over the years - blessings that we candidly take for granted.
Bishop Mario Molina has invited us to pray for Father Axel's health.
I wish to pass along the same invitation to you.
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