On March 18, 1989, two witnesses for the poor and nonviolence died in an auto accident in Perú: Father Neptalí Liceta, indigenous priest and coordinator of SERPAJ-Peru (the Latin American nonviolent action network), and Sister Amparo Escobedo, Sister of Social Service.
Father Neftalí once wrote:
“In the struggle for liberation in Latin America today, and the painful search for peace with justice, by following the option of Jesus Christ for the poor, we are making a definitive choice for the nonviolence of the cross that leads to resurrection. We must not be ignorant of, nor hide, nor attempt to legitimate the situation in which we are living if we are to be faithful disciples. To the contrary, we must denounce injustice constantly and clearly, and continually revise our goals and objectives. Nonviolence in Latin America implies noncooperation, whether internal or external, with every aspect of the existing unjust system.”
People like Padre Neftalí and Sister Amparo are lights that show what the Reign of God might be like. May their example inspire us to live lives of nonviolence and solidarity with the poor.
Speaking out clearly and forcefully against injustice is not easy and has not been easy, especially in Latin America where thousands have been killed. In the face of the violence and repression the Church has often failed to speak clearly and forcibly. But there have always been thousands of witnesses, usually among the priests and religious who work directly with the poor.
There have been some bishops who have spoken out and been killed for their efforts, not only Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala, but also Bishop Enrique Angelleli of La Rioja, Argentina, who was killed on August 4, 1976, in a suspicious car accident during Argentina’s Dirty War.
These martyrs of Latin America lived as a Poor Church and a Church for the poor, as Pope Francis hopes. They also sought a Church of the Poor – where the poor are central, even as participants.
May these martyrs of Latin America continue to inspire us to be light for the nations, witnesses of solidarity and nonviolence – seeking to be a Church of the Poor.