VATICAN CITY, MAY 29, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II urged that the truth be told about crimes committed against the Catholic Church in Guatemala, particularly the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.
When he received the Guatemalan bishops on their “ad limina” visit to Rome, the Pope this morning encouraged them to foster national reconciliation in the wake of the 36-year civil war.
The Holy Father applauded the local Church´s efforts in its “search for harmonious and peaceful coexistence, based on the values of reconciliation, justice, solidarity and liberty.”
“When it is necessary,” John Paul II said, “do not refuse to denounce injustice and propose principles of a moral character, which will also guide action in civil life.”
Most of Guatemala´s 12.6 million people are Catholic, and the Church had a key role in the 1996 peace agreements which ended the war that cost 150,000 lives.
A generation earlier, in 1976, Guatemala was the object of a campaign, launched with the support of military men and politicians, such as dictator Efrain Rios Montt and President Jorge Serrano Elias, to promote conversions to Protestant denominations. U.S. groups funded the campaign.
That effort inspired a campaign against the Catholic Church, which cost the life of many catechists and Church figures. Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala City, a defender of human rights, was killed April 26, 1998.
His murder occurred just hours after the publication of a report that blamed the army for most of the human-rights abuses committed during the war. Three military men, a priest and a parish cook are on trial for the murder.
The Bishop of Rome, who visited Guatemala in 1983 and 1996, said: “The Church in Guatemala has witnessed the spilling of blood of many of her children. In addition to the legitimate effort to reveal the truth about these execrable crimes, among which is that of Monsignor Juan Gerardi Conedera, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala, killed three years ago now, it is urgent to recall his memory as an ´example of limitless dedication to the cause of the Gospel.´”
He continued: “I now wish to render warm and merited homage to the hundreds of catechists who, together with some priests, risked their lives and even offered it for the Gospel. With their blood they made the blessed soil of Guatemala forever fruitful.
“Imitating Mary´s courage and integrity, they conquered through the blood of the Lamb and through their witness, without [allowing] the love of their life to make them fear death.”
The Church must not only denounce injustices, the Pope added; above all, it must promote justice.
He said that the spread of the “social doctrine of the Church acquires the dimension of a real pastoral priority, both to adequately address the different situations with a good conscience, illuminated by faith, as well as to foment and guide the laity´s commitment in public life.”
Lastly, the Pope appealed to the Guatemalan bishops to make “an effort to evangelize all those with responsibilities in the different areas of public administration.” He added: “As the Gospel also has something to say to them, it is necessary to help them discover that Jesus´ message is also valuable and pertinent in the work they do.”