Sizing Up Guatemala Amid Strife and Sects

New President of Episcopal Conference Outlines Challenges

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GUATEMALA CITY, FEB. 4, 2002 ( The invasion of fundamentalist sects over the past 40 years has given the Catholic Church in Guatemala renewed dynamism, asserts the new head of the bishops´ conference.

Metropolitan Archbishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, the new president of the Guatemalan episcopal conference, was asked by the newspaper Prensa Libre about the percentage of Catholics in the country.

«There are many statistics, but we have no trustworthy information,» he said. «I am not that interested in numbers; my concern is that the Church fulfill its mission.» (Statistics say 85% to 95% of Guatemala´s 12 million inhabitants are Catholic.)

Known as a conciliator for his role in the peace process that ended the decades-long civil war, Archbishop Quezada announced that the Church would foster good relations with other Christian denominations in the country.

«This is Pope John Paul II´s wish; therefore, the doors of the Archdiocesan Palace are open to all,» he said. «To promote ecumenism means to agree with those things that unite us, and not [focus] on those that divide us.»

«We still need to know one another better, and to eliminate religious fanaticism,» the archbishop continued. «At this time, it is imperative that we unite, so that we can avoid unnecessary polarizations, as happens in other sectors.»

In regard to the peace process, the archbishop said that one must not forget its benefits, «because death and the exile of thousands of Guatemalans has stopped.»

«The causes of the war have not been eliminated, because it has not been possible to implement the peace agreements,» he cautioned. «We insist that these begin, because they are a platform to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and to improve the living conditions of all.»

When Archbishop Quezada took office, the press said there would be changes in the archdiocese´s Office of Human Rights, which had been run by Bishop Juan Gerardi before his murder.

«I have reviewed all their activities, as well as the way funds are administered, and I am satisfied, so I will not make changes,» the archbishop said.

Three military men and a priest were convicted and sentenced in the 1998 murder of Bishop Gerardi. With reference to the case, Archbishop Quezada said the episcopal conference «has always said it wants to know the truth, no matter what it is, and that it is against impunity.»

«We want justice to be done, and we want it in memory of Bishop Gerardi and in tribute to his struggle for human rights,» he said. «Following serious studies, the archdiocese has decided to continue as a co-plaintiff, and we would like the second hearing to be carried out objectively, in keeping with the law, according to what has been done and proved in the trial, and without any pressure. The magistrates must analyze this case in total serenity.»

Archbishop Quezada said he has no plans to approach the political authorities. «Up to now, I have been dedicated to matters in my own house,» he said. «However, this does not mean that I am not aware of the state of the country.»

He added: «Our democracy is very weak. This is why it is important that it be exercised with much clarity and that the elections of the new procurator of human rights, the magistrates, the procurator of the nation, and the attorney general, not be politicized.»

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