Reconciliation Is Essence of Papal Message to Guatemala

Following 36 Years of Civil War

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GUATEMALA CITY, JULY 30, 2002 ( Wearied by 36 years of civil war, Guatemalans welcomed John Paul II as a «Messenger of Hope,» the name given to the Grupo TACA Airbus-320 which brought him from Toronto.

Indeed, the first words the Pope spoke, upon arrival at La Aurora airport, were to promote reconciliation and hope in this bloodstained country.

«I fervently hope that the noble Guatemalan people, who thirst for God and for spiritual values, who are anxious for peace, solidarity and justice, may live and enjoy the dignity which is theirs,» he said.

«Thank you, Your Holiness, for being a messenger of peace and reconciliation for our peoples,» said President Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera, echoing his country’s sentiment in his welcome to the Pope.

Guatemalans are well aware that John Paul II has long promoted dialogue and reconciliation as the only solution to the Central American nation’s conflict which left 200,000 dead and sent 1 million refugees to Mexico. And this out of a population of just under 13 million.

In 1988, with John Paul II’s support, the Guatemalan episcopal conference delegated two bishops to participate in the National Reconciliation Commission: then Bishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruño of Zacapa, and Bishop Juan Gerardi. The former is now archbishop of Guatemala. The latter was murdered in April 1998.

Archbishop Quezada Toruño eventually became president of this commission and official conciliator between the government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unit guerrillas, carrying forward the peace process that culminated in 1996.

The decisive negotiations were named the Esquipulas Agreements, with reference to the shrine of which Archbishop Quezada Toruño was then rector.

On Friday, the Pope proposed a new gesture of reconciliation in Guatemala, when he asked President Portillo to put an end to capital punishment in the country. In response, Portillo sent a proposal to Congress on Monday to abolish the death penalty.

The atmosphere during this papal visit is in great contrast to that of 1983, when Guatemala was at the height of its civil war. On that occasion the Holy Father made a similar appeal, but the de facto president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, defied the papal request and executed six people three days before John Paul II’s arrival.

On his third visit to this shattered country, the Pope has presented the example of Pedro de San José de Betancur (1626-1667) who became a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Central America of his time.

«Justice that endures is justice which is practiced humbly, compassionately sharing in the fate of the brethren, sowing the spirit of pardon and mercy everywhere,» the Pope said in his homily at the canonization Mass.

Brother Pedro’s legacy «should inspire in Christians and in all citizens a desire to transform the human community into a great family, in which social, political and economic relations may be worthy of man, and in which the dignity of the person is promoted, with the effective recognition of his inalienable rights,» the Holy Father concluded.

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