An American missionary priest, killed in Guatemala in 1981, has moved a step closer to being named a Catholic saint, after Pope Francis declared him the first-ever American martyr.
The Rev. Stanley Rother, a priest from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, served for nearly 15 years in Guatemala before being shot dead, during the country’s bloody civil war that divided the country from 1960 to 1996.
I don’t practice the corporal works of mercy.
The realization left me stunned. As I sat in a cluster of retreatants I thought about what that meant. Sure, I donate money to various charities, participate in food drives, and donate clothes that I no longer need, but I do not practice the corporal works of mercy — I have other people or institutions do it for me.
On the day Sam and Elida we to be deported, I arrived at the airport, with the entire Mejia family, and was witness to one of the most intensely sad events I’ve ever seen: a mother and father saying goodbye to their children, not knowing when they would see them again. As I drove home from the airport that night, I thought to myself, if every politician, faith-leader, and citizen in the U.S. could have met the Mejia family, and then seen the family ripped apart, the U.S. would not be deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. The raids that are descending on immigrant communities right now, targeting Central American families who recently crossed the border escaping extreme violence, would most likely not be happening. The de-humanizing term ‘illegal alien’ would not proliferate across our airwaves.
Canadians are supposed to be the good guys in the story. Well, not anymore.
Sunday afternoon, March 28, 1982. If you were an evangelical Christian living in Guatemala, watching TV, your heart would have been beating faster and tears of joy may have flowed down your cheeks.
A man was speaking so thoughtfully, with the Bible in hand. He was teaching the audience, “If there is no peace within the family, there would be no peace in the world. If we want peace, we need at first to be at peace in our hearts.” He went on, “Guatemala is the chosen people of the New Testament.”
That 55-year-old man was Guatemalan General Efrain Rios Montt, pastor of the Iglesia Verbo (Church of the Word), who had recently become president of Guatemala through a military coup.
On May 10, 2013, a Guatemalan court sentenced Rios Montt to 80 years in prison after finding him responsible for deliberate killings by the armed forces of at least 1,771 members of the Maya Ixil population during his 1982-83 rule.
During the Central American wars of the 1980s, nearly 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or disappeared. The bloodiest period came during the presidential term of Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, when entire villages were burned and civilians, primarily indigenous people, were massacred.
Rios Montt was a graduate of the U.S. School of the Americas and received millions of dollars in military aid from the U.S. He was also an evangelical/Pentecostal minister and a darling of the Religious Right.
Could my mission really be confined to seeking the best for the children to whom I gave birth? Or, as a Christian, should I define "family" more broadly? I'd see images of women and children suffering around the world, and those puzzling verses returned to my mind. Maybe, instead of obsessing over the happiness of my babies, I should stick my head out of the window, so to speak, look around, and ask, "Who is my family?"
It didn't feel right to simply shrug my shoulders and blithely accept my good fortune as compared to that of people born into extreme poverty. I'd buy my kids their new school clothes and shoes and then think of mothers who did not have the resources to provide their children with even one meal a day. I'd wonder: what's the connection between us? Does the fact that $10 malaria nets in African countries save whole families have anything to do with my family buying a new flat-screen TV? Should it? Is there any connection between me, a suburban, middle class mom, and women around the world?