Struggling for Justice in Guatemala

Interview with Bishop Ramazzini of San Marcos

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ROME, JUNE 3, 2001 (ZENIT.orgAVVENIRE).- Following the Guatemalan bishops´ «ad limina» visit with John Paul II, Bishop Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini said he is returning to his country with «hope and a deeper commitment as bishop.»

As bishop of San Marcos, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Guatemala City, Monsignor Ramazzini has lived through 36 years of civil war. Despite the peace pact signed five years ago, the wounds are yet to be healed.

«The Pope has strengthened our will to go forward next to the Guatemalan people, and has encouraged our work in the service of truth,» the 53-year-old bishop said.

A case in point is the beating death of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala City, in April 1998. He was murdered two days after publishing the war-crimes report, «Guatemala, Never Again.» The Pope himself appealed to Guatemalan justice in this case, during his address to the country´s bishops.

«The trial of Bishop Gerardi´s alleged killers is still in progress, but we do not know what the result will be,» Bishop Ramazzini said. «We are waiting. Justice must follow the need to know the truth.»

–Q: Do you have confidence in Guatemalan justice?

–Bishop Ramazzini: We think that justice is an ideal to be reached. We do not think that the judicial system functions adequately in Guatemala at this moment. This is not just an opinion of the Guatemalan episcopal conference. A few days ago the special relator of the United Nations came to the country to verify if the recommendations sent to the government had been implemented.

Unfortunately, the analysis was not encouraging. Only a few measures had been implemented. Justice is not an ideal that includes all Guatemalans.

–Q: What is Bishop Gerardi´s legacy?

–Bishop Ramazzini: His life´s witness, defense of human rights, consistency with the word of Jesus, the wisdom to evaluate the situation in Guatemala — he had great acuity in analyzing reality.

–Q: Why does the Church continue to insist on the «recovery of the memory»?

–Bishop Ramazzini: For several reasons: in order that it might not happen again, as the title of Bishop Gerardi´s report states; and that new generations will know what happened and learn the lesson for the future; and, above all, because a great part of the Guatemalan population has been unable to express the sorrow and suffering experienced during the war.

Moreover, those who disappeared must be kept in mind. We know they were buried in clandestine cemeteries. We want to help family members find the bodies of their loved ones and give them a dignified burial.

–Q: The Pope has emphasized the role the Church might have in the process of national reconciliation. How do you evaluate the situation?

–Bishop Ramazzini: In this regard, our concern has increased. Of course, the situation has changed. There is no longer an armed conflict, but the structural causes that led to the civil war are still there: poverty, impunity, lack of legitimate leadership, insecurity and social dissatisfaction.

About 80% of the people live in difficult conditions, and 60% of these people live in extreme poverty. The country´s economic power is in a few hands. There must be solidarity in sharing this wealth with the rest of the population.

Lastly, violence, the harshest legacy of these years of war, must be kept in mind. We, bishops, have called it «institutional violence.»

–Q: How does the Church try to heal these wounds?

–Bishop Ramazzini: We try to speak out in situations of patent injustice. We are the voice of those who cannot speak. In all the dioceses there is an office for respect and defense of human rights.

We are profoundly involved in the endeavor to promote the dignity of the human person. Yet, at the same time, we have a channel of communication open with the government, in an attempt to sensitize world public opinion to Guatemala´s problems, so that the international community will not cease to watch.

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