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2007 CODALC Meeting, Lima

2005 Meeting
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Latin American

United Nations
New York

Justice and Peace Meeting in Guatemala

Doris Regan O.P. (Columbus)
Justice and Peace Promoter for CODALC in Central America)

GUATEMALA , CA – December 3, 2007-- The Mesoamerican Justice and Peace Meeting, held in Guatemala November 12-16, commemorated the massacres in Bajo Vera Paz (Rabinal) between1981-1983 (more than 80% of the 669 different massacres in Guatemala occurred during these years) and also the anniversary of the assassination of Fr Carlos Morales O.P. in 1982. The territory of Vera Paz is called “Dominican territory” and Rabinal was founded in 1535 by Bartolome de Las Casas. The Dominican friars have been there ever since, ministering to the Mayan indigenous population.

Ritual in honor of fr. Carlos Morales, OP assassinated in 1982.

The seminar was sponsored by Justice and Peace Coordinators from CODALC and CIDALC and by the Central American Province. Forty seven Dominican friars, sisters and laity attended from El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala in Central America; Argentina and Peru in South America.; Mexico; and the Justice and Peace promoters for North America: - Dusty Farnan, OP (Adrian) and Chuck Dahm, OP (St. Albert).

The convocation- invitation to the meeting stated that “Rabinal can be considered a paradigmatic place in the recent history of violence, resistance and martyrdom of Guatemala. It will also take into account the national, Latin American and world context of yesterday and today.”  Its objectives were to make us conscience of the reality of the lived violence and its consequences as we complete 25 years from the time of the massacres. It was also to be a theological reading, reflecting on the feeling and extent of the resistance and martyrdom of a people, and listening to faith testimonies of survivors. An important point for the planners of the event was the recuperation of the historic memory in order to discern in it the challenges and difficulties for our mission today and to elaborate lines of action and criteria for solidarity and accompaniment of the Dominican Family in similar situations.

Some of the most profound moments of the workshop occurred in our prayer times. The first evening was a service prepared by Sr Esperanza Sanchez O.P.– herself a Mayan, in which we were invited to participate fully in the ritual of her people with candles, incense, and prayer gestures. During the first full day on Tuesday, November 13, we heard presentations by Juan Hernandez Pico S.J. and Fernando Suazo on the history of Guatemala in the past 25 years and of Rabinal`s history of violence and massacres, the military presence and systematic annihilation of a people. (Guatemala is 70% indigenous).

The theological reflection dealt with Resistance and Martyrdom, with individual histories and memories of Fr Melchor Fraj O.P. who accompanied the people at that time, of Monsignor Juan Gerardi and the Truth Commission report he published in April of 1989 which traced the history of the massacres and repression and “named names” of those responsible- (the Guatemalan military were responsible for 93% of the deaths during that time.) He was assassinated two days after the “NEVER AGAIN” report was published. Two Dominican Sisters (Rosario Celis and Juana Vasquez) spoke of the years of gathering the information for that report, the silence and the fear accompanying the process. We had also heard the story of the murder of Fr. Carlos Morales in a moving Morning Prayer service presented by friars of the Central American Province.

On Wednesday the 15th, we headed out at 5 am for Rabinal and Plan de Sanchez (the part of the Rabinal parish further up into the mountains, where the massacres occurred). Our bus broke down midway into what was supposed to be only a four hour ride, and so we hopped on the local bus and arrived in Rabinal very late but in time for some coffee prepared by the parish and then on to Plan de Sanchez in cars and trucks to attend the anniversary liturgy. The local people were awaiting us in the Sanctuary which has been built over what was originally a house and beneath which the remains of those assassinated are buried. The Sanctuary commemorates the 184 community members who were assassinated on July 18, 1982.

The names of each person who died are inscribed on the wall and in the front are three crosses dedicated to the men, women and children who were kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed. There is also a statement written above the crosses that demands no more murders of innocent people. We heard testimonies from some of the 20 survivors of the massacre and afterwards were shown the original burial sites where the survivors were forced to place the victims immediately after the houses were burned. Fr Pablo Irribaren O.P. (Mexico) preached and Bernardino Xitumul, a Mayan community member, translated it into Quiche.  Pablo spoke on the text of Isaias 52 and the Beatitudes and reminded us of Antonio Montesino`s stirring preaching against the Spanish authorities and their cruelty towards the native populations early on in their arrival to the Americas. It was indeed a sacred moment in a holy place and one wanted  to remove one`s shoes on entering and remain kneeling long after mass ended..

The community treated us to a meal before going down to Rabinal again to experience a community folkloric celebration with the Sisters of Charity who have been present there for many years. Again individuals gave testimonies that evening and their stories moved us to tears as they spoke of a wife who was killed, a man who lost his whole family, a woman who was raped and a woman who was 13 at the time and saw it all and still wonders why she was not taken by the military although her family was.

On Thursday, we returned to Guatemala City without mishap and listened to talks on the present day reality of Guatemala and of Rabinal. Each day we had time for group work by countries, and by ministries along with plenary sessions. We spent the evening in the public cemetery where there are memorials with the names of all the massacred and participated in a Mayan service for the dead. The final day of Friday was the anniversary of the murder of the Jesuits and their cook and her daughter in Salvador. The Salvadoran contingent planned another powerful morning prayer commemorating these martyrs. We also wrote a declaration from all of us protesting the continued operation of the School of the Americas. Dusty Farnan, OP (Adrian) North American CoPromoter of Justice and Peace,  left us that day to participate in the march in Georgia and was to have someone read it aloud at the entrance to Fort Benning, GA. (see related story)

We spent the morning looking at the final document we were preparing that would be a tangible result of the workshop.  The intangibles remain in our hearts- the deep faith of a people who were denigrated and annihilated but willing to speak and to live on with the memories of their beloved still alive in them and spurring them on. Their cause was heard in the International Court and declared a true case of ethnic genocide and the Guatemala Government has been condemned and declared responsible. Some of the testimonies we heard had been given personally to the International Court in Costa Rica in 2004- bringing to the public a process that had been begun in 1992. The process continues as the government has been given 5 years to settle on some sort of remuneration for the victims and three years have already gone by with no action on its part.

We came away from this experience with much sadness for what has happened but even more, with a joyful hope and gratitude to the God of Life that the testimonies of the witnesses produced in us. May their love of life and their deep commitment to their people and to their community penetrate our lives as well!

Doris Regan O.P. (Columbus) Justice and Peace Promoter for CODALC in Central America)




Read Dust Farnan's account of the meeting in Guatamala

Dominicans Add Their Voices to Call for School of ther Americas Closure

Read the Statement of Solidarity from the Latin American Dominicans Meeting to SOA

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