“If I should disappear, don’t look for me,
but continue the struggle
because what is important is
the salvation of all from the slavery of exploitation,
and for this one has to die if necessary;
this is the ultimate Christian commitment.”
So said Father Héctor Gallego, a Colombian priest serving in Veraguas, Panamá, who was disappeared and murdered forty years ago today at the age of 33. Two men, purportedly Panamanian police, dragged him from a peasant shack. He was never seen again, probably thrown out of an airplane and dorwned in the sea.
Penny Lernoux devotes twelve pages to him and the people of Veraguas in her classic work on the Church in Latin America, Cry of the People: The struggle for Human Rights in Latin America – The Catholic Church in Conflict with U.S. Policy.
He had been threatened before. In fact, some shopkeepers had burned down the shack where he was sleeping some time before.
Why? He was not an advocate of violence, but his accompanying the poor in their base communities and agricultural cooperatives, his simple lifestyle and his work, spiritual and physical, with the poor threatened the powers of this world.
A song written in his honor notes that “Héctor Gallego told us that we must reflect on the steps we take, and that is what the rich resent.”
Padre Héctor Gallego is only one of the many martyrs for the poor in Latin America, who stood with the poor. As he once said, “The holy faith does not stand at the sideline; we are part of a global situation and as such we have to face it together.”