“…we should have one ear to the Gospel
and the other to the people,
to know what God is saying to us.”
Bishop Enrique Angelelli
Forty years ago, on August 4, 1976, Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, Bishop of La Rioja, Argentina, was killed. It was made to look like a car accident but it was the work of the Argentinian dictatorship. He was the first of twentieth century Latin American bishops martyred for their faith in a God of justice and love for the poor.
A few weeks before he was killed, he preached at the funeral of two of his priests who were martyred, Gabriel Longueville and Carlos Murias.
What was their final sermon – as I see it? It is very difficult to be consistent in one’s life; but they were; they achieved the privilege and the choice by God to give witness and to seal with their own blood what is means to be Christians.
What does it mean to be a martyr, a witness of the resurrection of our Lord? The witness is the one who has seen, has touched, has heard, has experienced, has been chosen, and even more has been sent to go and say to all: the Lord has risen.
Therefore, this blood is joyful, the blood of martyrs poured out for the Gospel, for the name of the Lord, to serve the people and to announce the Good News of peace and joy.
Within a month he himself was dead, another victim of the dictatorship. A briefcase he was carrying, full of documents on the crimes of the dictatorship, was suspiciously not found. In 2014 two former soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing him.
At the funeral of Father Carlos and Gabriel, Monseñor Angelelli addressed the question of forgiveness in a very profound but concrete way:
How difficult it is to be a Christian? Because the Christian has to forgive.
If someone would tell us, “We don’t have to forgive; to kill priest is not Christian, nor even human,” we would respond without hesitating: the Christian has to forgive everyone. But it’s another thing to approve their errors and another thing altogether to fail to work to stop these things from happening.
But surely the conscience of the person who is responsible has to tell him: “You did this!” I don’t know how he could sleep or, if he’s married, how he could kiss his wife and children. I don’t understand this from the perspective of faith, nor even humanly, in this and other cases…. I don’t understand how those men can take those like themselves, and, calling themselves Christians, tear them into pieces and grind them up as one does with wheat to make bread, even though this time the wheat has yielded blessed bread. Don’t you remember that Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians. This, these very executioners are tools, in a certain way, of good, so that there may arise a community which is strong in faith, hope, and love.
We will be happy if God forgives them and we wish them to take account of what they have done. We also hope that those who have used their intelligence to perpetrate this crime find their mind enlightened by truth. And we pray that God does not permit whoever plotted this to think that they have done this in the name of faith; that would be an aberration. Let us forgive and ask God to forgive them.
Bishop Angelelli was one of the lights of the church in Latin America, calling for conversion – both personal and social. May his witness, his martyrdom, awaken in many the commitment to God and the poor.