Tag Archives: Bolivia

Cigar Box Ray

Forty years ago today, on October 20, 1975, a forty-five year old Iowa priest was martyred in Morochata, Bolivia.

A farm boy from Independence, Iowa, he got a bachelor’s degree in farm management from Iowa State University in Ames.

He became a priest of the archdiocese of Dubuque and served for a few years there before serving in Bolivia for several years as a Maryknoll associate. After this he served in a parish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which was served for many years by priests of the Dubuque archdiocese. There he helped found a school for the poor.

Father Ray Herman

After several years there he went to the town of Morochata, with its fifty scattered missions, where most of the people spoke Quechua. He visited the villages about once a year and also formed a network of seventy of more indigenous catechists.

On October 20, 1975, he dedicated a ten-bed hospital in Morochata which he had helped found. That night he was strangled and shot in his bed in the rectory.

It is not clear why he was killed. He was fairly apolitical, but in those days, when a US-supported dictator ruled in Bolivia, anyone who worked with the poor might be considered suspect.

He was buried back in Iowa. A priest friend, Father Leon Connolly, brought back all his possessions, except for books and clothing, which would fit into a cigar box. Father Ray was an inveterate cigar smoker.

What simplicity! What real poverty! What giving of himself for the poor!

But for him, it was sheer joy. As he once told a visitor,

“I have wanted to give everything to our Lord, and only since I have come to Morochata do I feel that I am really happy, and to some degree at least, successful in giving all to Christ,”

Would that we could imitate his entrega – how giving himself for God and the poor.

The imprudence of a martyr

…let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.
Jeremiah 11: 19

 In a few days we will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Monseñor Romero, the archbishop killed at the altar on March 24, 1980.


Yet a few days before his martyrdom, a Jesuit missionary from Catalonia, in Spain, was abducted and killed in Bolivia.

Father Luis Espinal, Padre Lucho, was abducted from a jeep in La Paz Bolivia in the evening of March 21, 1980. He was tortured in El Alto, near La Paz, and his bullet-ridden body was found the next day.

Luis Espinal was a print and television journalist, as well as a movie critic. His work revealed the oppression and injustice at the root of the Bolivian political and social system of his day.

His assassins tried to silence his voice, as they often try to silence the voices of truth and justice.

Father Luis Espinal’s martyrdom has been overshadowed by that of Monseñor Romero but his witness and his words can inspire us to live the truth of the Gospel in our daily life – no matter the cost.

It may have seemed imprudent to Padre Lucho – as wellas to Monseñor Romero – to be quiet in the face of persecution and death. But, as Fr. Luis Espinal once wrote this prayer:

Everyone speaks to us of prudence, Lord, but of a prudence that is not yours, that we search for in vain in your Gospel. Jesus Christ, we give you thanks because You did not stay silent so as to avoid the cross, because You lashed out at the powerful, knowing that You were gambling with Your life…. You do not want a prudence that leads to omission and that makes imprisonment impossible for us. The terrible prudence of stilling the shouts of the hungry and the oppressed…. It is not prudent to ‘sell all that you have and give it to the poor.’ It is imprudent to give one’s life for one’s God and for one’s brothers and sisters.

May God give all of us the true prudence that give us the courage to stand up for justice and not the “prudence” of the world that keeps us silent in the face of suffering.