Fifty years ago today, on August 20, 1965, the twenty-six year old Episcopalian seminarian Jonathan Daniels was killed in Hayneville, Alabama.
He had come to the south to support the civil rights movement. He, a Catholic priest, and two black civil rights workers hade been imprisoned and were waiting for a ride. They went to buy a soft drink but were confronted by a man with a shotgun and pistol. Jonathan Daniels died protecting one of the women who was threatened by the man with a shotgun aimed at her. Daniels pushed the man down and took the brunt of the blast.
He was among those who gave up the comforts of life and study to participate in the struggle of the poor.
What I find refreshing is this quote which shows not only the faith that was the source of his commitment but also a spirit that was seeking to be free of self-righteousness, one of the temptations of those who struggle for justice and human rights.
“I lost fear. . . when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. I began to lose self-righteousness when I discovered the extent to which my behavior was motivated by worldly desires and by the self-seeking messianism of Yankee deliverance! The point is simply, of course, that one’s motives are usually mixed, and one had better know it.”
This is a lesson for all of us.
On November 12, 1991, over 250 people were massacred at the Santa Cruz cemetery, Dili, East Timor, by Indonesian troops. They were, for the most part, supporters of independence for East Timor.
A few years later many people were killed by the occupying forces from Indonesia. One of the forces that sought justice was the Catholic Church and especially the bishop of Dili Carlos Filipe Ximenes, S.D.B. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. On receiving the prize he said:
“As a member of the Church, I take upon myself the mission of enlightening and denouncing all human situations which are in disagreement with the Christian concept and contrary to the teaching of the church concerning all mankind..
“The Catholic bishop is a pastor of a part of God’s people. Such mission is spiritual. Such mission is incumbent upon him ally as a dispenser of spiritual resources for the salvation of persons and consolidating them in faith in Jesus Christ.
“But mankind is not limited to a spiritual dimension; one should be saved as a whole, human and spiritual. In this aspect, anyone shall never be indifferent when a people’s possibilities for human realization, in all dimensions, are not respected.”
El Salvador, as many Latin American countries, has had many human rights advocates murdered for their witness. Herbert Anaya Sanabria, president of the Salvadoran nongovernmental Human Rights Commission (CDHES, no-gob), was assassinated on October 26, 1987. He once said:
“It is the lack of basic needs that most violates human rights…. As hunger intensifies and housing deteriorates the people make organized demands and these demands are met with repression…. Hunger will not be solved through handouts, but through social transformation. Repression will prolong, not resolve, the crisis. Whatever germ of inequality is planted also nourishes the seed of social justice and the determination to transform society. With our final breath we will continue our work. This isn’t heroism. It is simply doing what we have to do.”