Tag Archives: martyrs

Father Rafael Palacios – Salvadoran martyr

On June 20, 1979, thirty-eight year old Father Rafael Palacios was gunned down in the streets of Saint Tecla, El Salvador, one of many priests, religious, and catechists killed in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s.

Raised in Suchitoto, he studied for the priesthood in the diocese of San Vicente and was ordained in 1963. But his commitment to the poor brought him and other priests in conflict with their bishop who suspended them. He was later accepted in the archdiocese of San Salvador.

In my unpublished work on the parish of Suchitoto, I wrote this about Padre Rafael.

        Fr. Palacios was ordained a priest in Suchitoto on May 26, 1963. He then began working as a priest in Tecoluca, in the diocese of San Vicente. But his liberating style of evangelization brought him into conflict with his bishop, Monseñor Arnoldo Aparicio, who suspended him and nine other priests who were outspoken in their commitment to the poor.  Palacios was forced to leave the diocese but was taken in by the parish of El Calvario in Santa Tecla. His work there also brought him trouble. As Plácido Erdozaín relates:

“Members of his local community, born of the city’s poor, worked out an interpretation of Jesus’ imprisonment based on their own lives of exploitation. On Holy Thursday, 1979, they acted it out in a passion play in the parish of El Calvario. The old accusations surfaced again and Rafael was criticized by some of his fellow priests and some members of the hierarchy.
“He was a hard worker, poor, very quiet, and built like a prize fighter. He spoke right to the point, Despite the accusations, he kept on working as before, but now with the poorest of the poor, those who lived in and around the markets, and those who had been evicted from their miserable dwellings. He refused to be tied down by territorial or liturgical restrictions. His goal was to create communities of free Christians, there where they lived, suffered, resisted, and struggled for liberation.

Palacios worked somewhat outside of the normal canonical parish structures. However, in 1979 he was persuaded to take over the parish of San Francisco in Mejicanos after the killing of Father Octavio Ortiz in January. While pastor in Mejicanos, he also coordinated base communities in Santa Tecla and in Santa Lucía, San Salvador. He also served as the representative of the Pastoral Reflection Group to the National Committee of Christian Communities. He was also a committed member devoted to the Pastoral Reflection Group, sometimes called “the thirty” and was its secretary at the time of his death.

Fr. Palacios was killed on June 20, 1979, in the streets of Santa Tecla, on his way back from a meeting of the communities he worked with. The UGB, Unión Guerrera Blanca, the White Warriors Union, took responsibility for his murder.

A hymn written in his honor notes his attempts to have people understand their faith and live it, not as mere individuals seeking to save their souls, but as members of the community seeking the Kingdom of God. “Nuestro Dios no está en el templo / sino en la comunidad. Our God is not in the church building but lives in the community.”

He is buried in the church of Santa Lucía in Suchitoto. For several years there was a mural with the images of Padre Rafael and Monseñor Romero on the wall of the convento of the church of El Calvario in Suchitoto.

convento painting copy

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Bishop martyred in Nicaragua

On February 26, 1549, Bishop Antonio Valdivieso, OP, was killed in Leon, Nicaragua, by the governor’s son and his henchmen.

This Dominican friar had for many years been an advocate for the indigenous people of Nicaragua. Born in Spain, he went as a missionary to Nicaragua and, seeing the way the Spaniards treated the native peoples, he began to speak up. At one point, he returned to Spain to denounce the crimes against them. It is not clear that he was heard, but he was appointed bishop of Leon, Nicaragua.

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The door of the Real Audiencia de los Confines, Gracias, Lempira. Now the parish radio station.

Returning to Central America, he traveled to what is now Gracias, Lempira, Honduras, where the Spanish crown has established the Real Audiencia de los Confines, the high court of justice for the region. He was ordained bishop in Gracias by his fellow Dominican, Bartolomé de las Casas, and two other bishops. He and las Casas stayed there for some time trying to get the court to really defend the native peoples but finally left. Las Casas returned to his diocese in Chiapas, Mexico, where he continued to advocate for the native peoples until he felt forced out and continued his advocacy in Spain.

Bishop Antonio Validivieso went to Leon and finally arrived there despite the efforts of Spanish soldiers to prevent his entry into the city.

He continued his advocacy until his martyrdom. He is an example of a number of bishops in “New Spain” who spoke out for justice for the native peoples and suffered for it.

In the late twentieth century in Latin America there arose other bishops with the courage and the compassion to be in solidarity with the poor and with the native peoples – most notably, in Central America, Bishop Samuel Ruiz in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, Monseñor Juan Gerardi in Guatemala, and Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero of San Salvador.

We need more bishops like them.

 

Teach us to love

St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whose feast is celebrated today, is notable for the place he gave to love in his moral teaching. It flows, I believe, from his understanding of God.

In a sermon, found in today’s Office of Readings, he tells us:

Since God knew that man is enticed by favors,  He wished to bind him to his love by means of His gifts: “I want to catch [humans] with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me.”

Today is also the anniversary of the killing in 1996 of the Dominican bishop of Oran, Algeria, Pierre Claverie. He was a proponent of dialogue and solidarity with Islam.

In a letter, shortly before his death, he wrote:

“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation… I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.
“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.
“So that love vanquishes hate, one must love to the point of giving one’s life in the daily combat from which Jesus himself did not escape unscathed.”

In a world filled with hate and resentment, in a world that fears the “other” – especially if the other is a migrant or the other is from another religious tradition, these words need to help us grow in love.

It is not easy because it sometimes demands a change in us. As the martyred bishop reminds us:

“There is no life without love. There is no love without letting go every possession and giving oneself.”

May God give us the strength and the courage to love.

Saint Alban and World Refugee Day

June 20 is the feast of Saint Alban, an early English martyr. He is also the patron saint of refugees.

He was living in Briton when a Christian priest appeared on his doorstep, fleeing from persecution. He was very impressed by the prayer and holiness of the priest and received instruction from him. The local authorities began to suspect that Alban was harboring a Christian and searched his house. Alban had helped the priest to escape and had put on the priest’s clothes.

Alban was arrested and when his real identity was known he refused to renounce the Christian faith and was subsequently tortured and martyred.

But it all started with welcoming a stranger.

May we follow the example of Saint Alban – even risking imprisonment and death to save the refugees.

Today let us pray especially for the Chaldean Catholics arrested in Detroit who face deportation to a situation of intense violence and persecution.

Saint Albam, pray for them and for us.

 

 

Twentieth century martyrs

Today is the feast day of several twentieth century martyrs.

St. Toribio Romo (1900-1928) was a Mexican priest who was killed during the time of the Cristero rebellion. He was not involved directly in the rebellion but had continued his ministry despite the prohibitions of the authorities. On February 28, 1928, soldiers broke into his room and shot him.

His short life has been overshadowed by a ministry that he has assumed after death. A number of migrants from Mexico to the United States have be assisted by a young priest when they were in dire circumstances who identified himself as Toribio Romo. A few stories can be found here. He is thus invoked as a protector of migrants, many of whom visit his shrine in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalisco.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Franz Jägerstëtter (1907-1943), an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, despite the admonitions of friends and clergy. He saw Nazism as a train headed to hell and refused to be part of this. His story would have been forgotten if the US Catholic sociologist Gordon Zahn had not published his life and some of his letters in the early 1960s in the book In Solitary Witness. His witness against war influenced many, including me, in our opposition to the Viet Nam war and to war in general.

Today is also the anniversary of the martyrdom in 1996 of the Trappist Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas in Algiers. Their story is beautifully portrayed in the films Of Gods and Men. Their witness has inspired me since I first read their story in John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.

Especially poignant is the last testimony of the prior, Christian de Chergé which he wrote several years before his death. The full text can be found in several languages here. In the last sentences he addressed his future killers:

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
Amen! In sh’ Allah!”

His words of love for those who killed him are an inspiration in a time when we demonize our opponents and enemies.

These martyrs – and many others – can teach us about the love of God who does not leave us orphans and which calls us to care for the migrant, to refuse to kill, and to love our enemies.

A martyr’s tribute to another martyr

Before the current wave of martyrs in the Middle East, most recently those killed in Egypt on Palm Sunday, there were a good number of martyrs in Algeria in the 1990s.

The most famous of these are the Trappists of Tibhirine who were kidnapped on March 27, 1996, and then killed. John Kiser wrote The Monks of Tibhirine; Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. The moving film Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving films I have ever see.

Their prior, Fr. Christian de Chergé, OCSO, wrote an incredible testament, available here in English and French.

But there were many others.

On May 8, 1994, two years before his martyrdom, Fr. Henri-Barthelemy Verges, Marist brother, and Sister Paule-Hélène Saint Raymund, Little Sister of the Assumption, were killed in Algiers, Algeria.

On July 5, 1994, Père Christian wrote this about Père Henri-Barthelemy:

“I was personally very close to Henri. His death seemed to be so natural, just part of a long life entirely given to the small, ordinary duties. He seemed to me to belong to the category that I call ‘martyrs of hope,’ those who are never spoken of because all their blood is poured out in patient endurance of day-to day life. I understand ‘monastic martyrdom’ in the same sense. It is this instinct that leads us not to change anything here at present, except for an ongoing effort at conversion. But there again, no change!”

Martyrdom is not always something extraordinary. It is often the closure on a life given over in love to the tasks of daily life.

This reminded me of what Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero wrote in his retreat notebook, in March 1980, shortly before his martyrdom,

“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”

What is important is the daily martyrdom, the giving over oneself to God and others. This is the witness – the martirio – of those who seek to follow the Cross of Christ to the Resurrection – a life of continual conversion

Come to the light

Whoever loves the truth comes to the light.
John 3: 21

“Years of terror and death have reduced the majority of Guatemalans to fear and silence.
Truth is the primary word that makes it possible for us to break this cycle of death and violence and to open ourselves to a future of hope and light for all.”
Monseñor Juan Gerardi  (1922-1998)

Juan_gerardiNineteen years ago today, April 26, 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi was killed in Guatemala City. A few days before he had released the TEMHI report, the report of the archdiocesan human rights office on the recovery of historical memory in Guatemala, which laid bare the truth about the violence that had ravaged Guatemala for decades.

The report found that about 90 percent of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances were done by the Guatemalan military. This truth was too much for some who tried to hide this by killing the messenger.

Bishop Gerardi’s memory lives on – and, I pray, inspires many to speak the truth and recall the memory of those who have died in defense of life.

In a world where the powers that be bring death to the poor and others, speaking the truth is not valued. Some speak about “fake facts,” but how many seek the real truth?

The early followers of Jesus were put into jail for speaking the truth of his  death and resurrection. But they were released, not by the authorities of the temple or the other powers that controlled life in their day. In only one of a few jail breaks recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the angle of the Lord released them and, instead of going home and hiding, they went to the heart of the temple and preached.

How do I let the truth come to light in the way I live? How do I speak up, in the midst of violence, injustice, racism, and all that keeps people from living as children of God? How do I respond to the truth of God which is the truth of a God who so loves the world that He comes in person (John 3: 16)?