The history of Central America, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, is bloody. Many know of the violence in El Salvador, partly because of the killings of Archbishop Romero and the four US women missionaries in 1980, partly because of the overt US support of the government and military – in the mid-1980s at a rate of about one million US dollars a day.
The history of Guatemalan oppression is much less known, though it is bloodier and lasted longer. After the war was over, the Guatemalan Archdiocesan Human Rights Office supported the Recovery of Historical Memory Project [REMHI], to investigate the killings. The project released a report that implicated the Guatemalan government and military in 90% of the 200,000 plus killings and disappearances.
Guatemala City auxiliary bishop Juan Gerardi led the investigation and spoke at the release of the report. He had experienced the repression first hand when he was bishop of Santa Cruz de Quiché. The violence got so bad that he and the priests withdrew from the diocese, partly at the urging of the people. He went into exile but later returned.
Two days after the REMHI report was released, Bishop Gerardi was killed on April 26, 1988, fifteen years ago today.
When he reported the findings of the REMHI report on April 24, 1998, he noted the importance of the report and the dangers in releasing such information:
We want to contribute to the building of a country different than the one we have now. For that reason we are recovering the memory of our people. This path has been and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God has risks and can only be built by those that have the strength to confront those risks.
Even today there are dangers as can be noted in the trial of former Guatemalan general and president Rios Montt, which was revealing more of the massacres of indigenous peoples. The status of the trial is unsure now. For more information, look at the Central American Politics blog of a friend and University of Scranton professor, Mike Allison.
Impunity for crimes against the poor and indigenous are not uncommon in Latin America.
But that means that we are called even more to practice the virtue of solidarity, that is, as Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [On Social Concern], paragraph 28, wrote, the “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….”
This is not something political, nor is it merely the social aspect of our faith. Solidarity is, as Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it, “an encounter with God.”
Bishop Gerardi put it more starkly, on March 10, a few weeks before his martyrdom:
We ought to reflect on the suffering of Christ in his Mystical Body. That means, that if the poor person is not part of our life, then, perhaps, Christ is not part of our life.
El sufrimiento de Cristo en su cuerpo místico es algo que nos debe hacer reflexionar. Es decir, si el pobre está fuera de nuestra vida, entonces quizás, Jesús está fuera de nuestra vida.
May Christ – present in the suffering and the poor, in the crucified peoples of this world – become ever more central to our lives.