Category Archives: accompaniment

An OKIE martyr

“A nice compliment was given to me recently when a supposed leader in the Church and town was complaining that ‘Father is defending the people.’
He wants me deported for my sin.
“This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm.
The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.
Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people,
that our presence among them will fortify them
to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”
Father Stanley Rother
1980 Christmas Letter

Thirty-five years ago, on July 28, 1981, a priest from Oklahoma, Father Stanley Rother, was killed in the rectory of the church of Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala. María Ruíz Scaperlanda has written a beautiful book on his life, The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.

He, like another US missionary whom I knew, Maryknoll Father Ron Hennessey, took accompanying the poor as central to his missionary work. Father Ron lived and served many years in Guatemala and El Salvador, living in situations of war and injustice, and quietly making known the sufferings of his people. Fr. Ron died on a visit back to his native Iowa.

Father Stan, Apl’as to the indigenous members of his parish, had a shorter life as a missionary as he was killed one evening, a few days after the town’s feast of Saint James. He knew that “To h the hand of an Indian is a political act.”

But Father Stan is not the only martyr from this beautiful town on Lago Atitlán. Note two plaques in the church in Santiago Atitlán – here and here.

On January 3, 1981, Diego Quic Apuchan, Mayan Indian catechist, was disappeared and killed, Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, 1981. As he had noted to Fr. Stan:

“I have never stolen, have never hurt anyone, have never eaten someone else’s food. Why, then, do they want to hurt me and kill me?

On April 21, 1989, Juan Sisay, painter, president of Catholic Action, martyred in his home in Santiago Atitlán.

On December 2, 1990, Thirteen campesinos killed in Santiago Atitlán massacre, as the army fired on several thousand unarmed peaceful Tzutujil Mayas. Their story is told here.

It is important to remember Father Stan and to recall his witness. But we are also called on to recall the many others killed because of their faith and their commitment to the poor – in his parish, in Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Honduras, and even now in other parts of the world.

And the challenge for us? How to be witnesses in our daily lives in such a way that if we are facing martyrdom we may face it with joy and love and forgiveness.


Subversive women feeding the poor

On December 2, 1980, four US women missionaries were killed in El Salvador by government forces.

The only crime of Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and lay missionary Jean Donovan was to have worked with the poor.

But theirs was not a work done from a distance, distributing goods to the poor – though they did provide material assistance to the many Salvadorans displaced by governmental repression in the face of an impending civil war.

As Jesus fed the crowds (Matthew 15: 29-37) and Isaiah revealed God’s promise of rich food and choice wines (Isaiah 25: 6-10), these women lived among the poor, served them, and sat at their tables – sharing the rich food of tortillas and beans.

But to give food to the poor can be a crime. It can awaken in them the vision of a world where all can sit down together at the table of the Lord.

But these women were not political activists, as some US government officials said in an effort to undermine their witness and to support military aid to the repressive Salvadoran government.

No. Their work was based in their faith, in their love of a God who had compassion on the crowds and fed them.

When the Peace Corps was withdrawn from El Salvador, Jean Donovan reiterated her decision to stay and be with the people:

Several times I have decided to leave—I almost could except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy…. Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.

She, as the other women, had accompanied the people and been converted to the God who takes the side of the poor.

They worshipped a God who became flesh, not in the palace of a king but in a humble manger.

They worshipped a God who had no place to lay his head – and who was killed for offering the people real life in God’s Reign, not the substitute kingdoms of wealth, power, influence.

They worshipped a God who is Love.

And that love is subversive.


Laura López, martyr of solidarity

laura lopezduranThirty years ago, on April 24, 1985, a Salvadoran catechist gave up her space in a bomb shelter and was killed while running to escape the guns of the Salvadoran government troops, near Valle Verde, in the municipality of Suchitoto.

Laura López was the pseudonym of Felipa Duran. She was active as a catechist in the rural region of Suchitoto, a region devastated by the Salvadoran civil war. The Salvadoran guerrillas operated fairly freely in the region since they had the support of many rural communities which had been evangelized in the style of liberating theology by a series of priests and lay leaders.

Thus the Salvadoran government military often invaded the zone – both with troops and with major bombings. There were a series of major massacres in the area.

Laura came into this area, allied to a number of priests and religious leaders who supported the cause of the guerrillas, though not always their tactics. Though she was not from the area, she came in solidarity.

She led Celebrations of the Word. I heard several people say how she always seemed to come in the most difficult times and offered a word of consolation.

She also passed on the testimony of the crimes of the Salvadoran government troops to the church’s legal aid office.

But she was not uncritical of the guerrillas. Her denunciations of promiscuity among the guerrilla troops almost had her expelled from the region, but the communities resisted such a move.

Her stance was based in her faith and so her opinions were not as ideological as some supporters of the guerrillas. As reported in the Memorial Martirial, “she used to say that the members of both the guerrillas and of the armed forces were not as much to blame for what they did as were those who led them.”

On the fateful day when she was shot, she was fleeing with her daughter. She told her daughter to hide, lest she be killed. Handing over her knapsack she told her, “Adelante. Go forward.”

She had gone forward, giving up a place of safety – not only in the shelter but also by entering and serving in a war zone. But she did it out of love, with a vision of a civilization of love. As she once said:

“We have gotten used to hating, to being afraid. We have to put an end to that. We have to confront ourselves, to kill the false pride within our soul, so that a new person may arise, so that a new civilization may come into being — one composed of love.”

Laura was but one of thousands of pastoral workers in El Salvador who were killed. In a month, on May 23, Monseñor Oscar Romero will be beatified. He is but one of those who were martyred for their commitment to a God who hears the cry of the poor.


A more detailed description of the witness of Laura López can be found in this extract from a book I’m writign on the witness of the church in the parish of Suchitoto, El Salvador: Laura Lopez extract.


Faith that does justice

On February 5, 1991, Jesuit father Pedro Arrupe died. A Basque like St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, he first studied medicine before joining the Jesuits. Sent to Japan, he witnessed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and he and other Jesuits attended to the victims of that atrocity in their seminary, four miles from ground zero.

In 1965 he became Father General of the Society of Jesus and led the congregation until he resigned in 1983 after suffering a disabling stroke in 1981. During his last two years as Father General the pope had appointed an acting father general, overlooking Father Arrupe’s choice. He accepted this with a great equanimity.

Beside this, perhaps his greatest legacy was the Thirty-Second Congregation of the Society, December 1974 to March 1975. The fourth decree set the direction of the society to a “faith that does justice.”

As the decree stated:

“Our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to proclaim the Gospel demand of us a commitment to promote justice and enter into solidarity with the voiceless and the powerless.”

This is not something new – but it brought the society into a more profound encounter with the world of the poor. The Jesuits were often considered to be the elite order of the church and to concentrate their efforts on the education of the elite. But now they felt called to be with the poor.

The Gospel calls us to accompany the poor, to listen to the voiceless and powerless. It can, at times, call us to become poor or to be in solidarity with the poor in such as way that we find ourselves also marginalized.

But it comes from an encounter with Jesus, the poor man of Nazareth, the God who emptied himself to become flesh like us – and from an encounter with the poor.

Today, in memory of Father Pedro Arrupe, is a good day to remember this and renew our commitment to God and to the poor.

First love

You have left behind your first love.
Revelation 2:4

 In the beginning of the Book of Revelation, Jesus sends a message to seven churches in Asia Minor.

The first message is to the church at Ephesus, an important city in the region. In the city the church was struggling with the Nicolaitans, whose teaching was, as Pablo Richard notes in Apocalypse: A People’s Commentary on the Book of Revelation, “a pre-gnostic heresy that seeks to spiritualize Christianity in order to make it compatible to the empire.”

The Church has stood firm but it has lost, abandoned, or left behind its first love, the agape, the solidarity and love that first motivated them.

How easy it is to leave behind that first love, that spirit that inspired me to come here to Honduras, to be of service to those most in need. How important it is to recall this inspiration, this first love, so that it may grow even more.

In less than a month I will be moving out to the countryside, to live in a village in the parish where I am helping. The house is bigger than I need – but it is meant as a guest house and a place where people can come to rest.

But most of all it will enable me to be closer to the people, to be there more for them, since the town is in a central location in the parish.

I pray it will be an opportunity for me to return to that first love with a deeper sense of solidarity, with a greater commitment to justice.

What to give

“Silver and gold I have none,
but what I have I give you.”
Acts 3: 6

 Entering the temple to pray, Peter and John encounter a beggar, crippled from his mother’s womb.

He looks at them hoping for some alms, but Peter gives him much more.

 In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.

Then Peter helps him up, grasping his right hand.

Get up and walk.

I cannot give you money to make life easier for you today, but I can give you the gift of living more fully, standing up. You are no longer a beggar. You are a human being.

And what does the man do?

He entered the temple with them, walking, leaping, and praising God.

I wonder if he did somersaults.

What are we called to do as missionary disciples?

I think Peter teaches us: Give people a hand so that they can stand up on their own and praise God with their lives?

A few cents in alms can change things for a few minutes or even a day – and, at times, we need to do that.

But I believe we must also offer the hand of accompanying the poor as they stand up and walk.

Is this not the work of the Church?

César Chávez, the founder of the Farm Workers Union, died on April 23, 1993. He once said

What do we want the Church to do? We don’t ask for more cathedrals. We don’t ask for bigger churches or fine gifts. We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.

Will we be servants, at the side of the poor?

Accompanying the pain

Today’s Stations of the Cross in the Dulce Nombre Parish brought me to tears several times.

But what most struck me were the photos and names of people who had been murdered in the past year.

One community has suffered much: four deaths in the last five months – and it’s a community where visitors from the sister parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames helped with the foundations of the church about two years ago.

I realized that I knew one of the persons killed; in fact, we had worked with Daniel on the church building.


I was also struck at the photo of one of the young people killed – so young. He was very recently killed at 17. The photo is from a few years ago and he appears much younger.


I talked several times with the family members. One young man, the son of the man I knew, was especially stricken, many times close to tears. All I could do was put my arm around him. During the greeting of peace, we hugged.

As I look back on this, I realize that one of the most important things we can do is accompany them, to be present to them, to show them that we love them.

How I wished that some members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church or some of my friends could have been there, showing their care by their presence.

We need lots of things here; we need to work on alternatives to violence; we need to find ways that people can improve their lives and the lives of their families.

But I think we also need the accompaniment of people, people willing to be with the people.

Any takers?


More photos of the stations can be found here.

The Spanish text of the stations can be found here:  Via Crucis Romero DNM.