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Monsignor Juan Gerardi
In Guatemala, Monsignor Juan Gerardi was assassinated in April, 1998.
"Monsignor Gerardi was the driving force behind the project for the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI), created to shed light on the war's human rights violations. Two days before his death, he had participated in the presentation of REMHI's final report, entitled "Guatemala: Never Again." His co-workers in the ODHA and REMHI believed the motive for his murder was political -- the killer had access to Gerardi's house and car, but stole nothing. Witnesses saw unknown men in two trucks hanging around the parish house the night of the killing, another trademark of the death squads that killed with impunity during Guatemala's 36-year conflict." Activists say the murder was a direct reply to the presentation of the REMHI report, which blames the army for at least 90 percent of the massacres, killings and other human rights violations during the war. Speakers at the presentation called for truth and justice, and Guatemalan Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio called for a governmental commission to investigate Guatemala's thousands of "disappeared." The REMHI report based its conclusions on the study of more than 55,000 human rights violations suffered in Guatemala. It said 150,000 people died, 50,000 "disappeared," one million became refugees, 200,000 children were orphaned and 40,000 women became widows. © 1998, Piet van Lear, A War Called Peace
His last address, given as he presented a report of the truth to Guatemala, is an eloquent reminder of why unpleasant truths must be faced and of the healing to which they are necessary:
ON THE OCCASION OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE REMHI REPORT
Metropolitan Cathedral of Guatemala City, April 24, 1998
The REMHI project has been an effort within the Human Rights Ministry which is part of the Social Ministry of the Church. It is a mission of service to people and to society.
When confronted with political or economic issues, many people react by saying "Why does the Church get involved in this?" They would like us to dedicate ourselves strictly to spiritual ministries. But the Church has a mission to accomplish in terms of bringing order to society, and that includes ethical, moral and evangelical values. What do the commandments tell us? They say, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." And it is precisely to that neighbor that the Church has to direct its mission.
Speaking to lay people, Pope John Paul II said, "An essential task of the Church is to rediscover the dignity of the human person." This was also the evangelizing labor of Jesus. The Lord put the dignity of human beings at the center of the Gospel.
Within the pastoral work of the Church, the REMHI project is a legitimate and painful denunciation that we must listen to with profound respect and a spirit of solidarity. But it is also an "announcing." It is an alternative aimed at finding new ways for human beings to live with one another. When we began this project, we were interested in discovering the truth in order to share it. We were interested in reconstructing the history of pain and death, seeing the reasons for it, understanding the why and how. We wanted to show the human drama and to share with others the sorrow and the anguish of the thousands of dead, disappeared and tortured. We wanted to look at the roots of injustice and the absence of values.
This is a pastoral way of doing things. It is working with the light of Faith to discover the face of God, the presence of the Lord. In all of these happenings, it is God who is speaking to us. We are called to reconcile. Christ's mission is a reconciling one. His presence calls us to be reconcilers in this broken society and to try to place the victims and perpetrators within the framework of justice. There are people who have died for their beliefs. There are executioners who were often used as instruments. Conversion is necessary and it's up to us to open spaces to bring about that conversion. It's not enough to just accept the facts. It is necessary to reflect on them and to recuperate the values lost.
We are gathering the memories of the people because we want to contribute to the construction of a different country. This path was and continues to be full of risks, but the building of the Kingdom of God has risks and only those that have the strength to confront those risks can be the builders.
On June 23, 1994 the parties that negotiated the Peace Accords expressed their conviction that, "all of the people of Guatemala [have] the right to know the full truth" about the events that occurred during the armed conflict, and that "this clarification will help to ensure that the sad and painful pages of history will not be repeated and that the process of democratization in the country will be strengthened." They emphasized that [knowing the truth] is an indispensable condition for achieving peace. This is part of the preamble of the Accord which created the Commission for Historical Clarification whose important work is also is the process of being concluded.
The Church resonated with this desire and committed itself to the search to "know the truth," convinced as Pope John Paul II said that "truth is the strength behind peace." (World Day of Peace, 1980). As a Church, we collectively and responsibly assumed this task of breaking the silence that thousands of war victims have kept for years. We opened up the possibility for them to talk and to have their say, to tell their stories of suffering and pain, so they might feel liberated from the burden that has been weighing down on them for so many years.
This has been the essential objective that has motivated the REMHI project during its three years of work: to know the truth that will make us all free (John 8:32).
In the Historical Clarification Accord, we, as people of faith, discovered a call from God to our mission as Church that truth should be the vocation of all of humanity. Coming from the Word of God, we can not hide or cover-up reality. We cannot distort history, nor should we silence the truth.
Twenty centuries ago, Saint Paul made a statement that our recent history has confirmed unequivocally that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth with injustices." (Rom 1:18). The truth in our country has been twisted and silenced.
God is inflexibly opposed to evil in any form. The root of the downfall and the disgrace of humanity comes from the deliberate opposition to truth that is the radical reality of God and of human beings. It is this reality that has been intentionally deformed in our country throughout 36 years of war against the people.
That's why in our Bishop's pastoral letter entitled "True Peace is Urgent!!", we stated that historical clarification was "not just necessary, but crucial to ensuring that the past, with all of its serious consequences, would not be repeated. As long as the truth is not known, the wounds of the past continue to be open and do not begin to heal."
As a Church, we do not have any doubt that the work we have carried out in these past few years has been part of a story of grace and salvation, a real step towards peace as a result of justice. It has been a soft scattering of the seeds of life and dignity throughout the country -- and the advocates and participants in the work have been the suffering people themselves. It has been a beautiful service of veneration for the martyrs and a dignification of the victims that were the targets of the plans for destruction and death.
To open ourselves to the truth and to bring ourselves face to face with our personal and collective reality is not an option that can be accepted or rejected. It is an undeniable requirement of all people and all societies that seek to humanize themselves and to be free. It makes us face our most radical condition as humans; that we are sons and daughters of God, called to participate in our Father's freedom.
Years of terror and death have displaced and reduced the majority of Guatemala to fear and silence. Truth is the primary word, the serious and mature action 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.
REHMI's work has been an astonishing endeavor of discovery, exploration and appropriation of our personal and collective history. It has been an open door for people to be able to breath and speak in freedom and for the creation of communities with hope. Peace is possible -- a peace that is born from the truth that comes from each one of us and from all of us. It is a painful truth, full of memories of the deep and bloody wounds of the country. It is a liberating and humanizing truth that makes it possible for all men and women to come to terms with themselves and their life stories. It is a truth that challenges each one of us to recognize our individual and collective responsibility and commit ourselves to action so that those abominable acts never happen again.
This project has made a commitment to the people that gave their testimonies, to gather their experiences in this report and to support all of the demands of the victims. But our commitment is also to return the collected memory to the people. The search for truth does not end here. It must return from where it was born and it must support the role of memory as an instrument for social reconstruction through the creation of materials, ceremonies, monuments etc.
Pope John Paul II tell us, "It is necessary to keep alive the memory of what has happened. It is a specific duty. We've been better able to comprehend what World War II has meant for Europeans and for the world during these 50 years thanks to the acquisition of new information that has allowed us a better understanding of the suffering caused." (50th Anniversary of the end of World War II) This is what the REMHI project has done in Guatemala.
Discovering the truth is painful, but it is without a doubt, a healthy and liberating action. The thousands of testimonies of the victims and the recounting of the horrific crimes are the current day manifestations of the figure of the "suffering servant of Yahweh," who is incarnated in the people of Guatemala. "Behold my servant," says Isaiah, "...many were afraid of him. He was so disfigured he was beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of sons of man. He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. (Isaiah 52:13 - 53:4)
Bringing the memory of these painful events into the present leads us to confront some of the first words of our faith, "Cain, where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know", he answered. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yahweh replied, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." (Gen 4: 9-10)
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