Bishop Juan Gerardi

(martyr, champion of recovering Guatemala’s historical memory)

The Recovery of Historical Memory. That’s the name of the project Bishop Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City, created to investigate the military’s human rights abuses that caused the destructiohope photon of over 400 Indian villages. His wish: to keep their memory alive.

When I lived in River Forest, Illinois in the 1980’s, our parish played a small part in the sanctuary movement, providing support, shelter, and transportation to a Guatemalan family escaping the horrific military violence in their country. My Spanish was not that good, but

I will always remember their eyes.

 Human Rights Abuses Investigated

By 1996, the United Nations brokered an end to thirty-six years of civil war in Guatemala.  The peace agreement called for an investigation of human rights abuses.  Bishop Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City, headed the archdiocesan office of human rights. His Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) project conducted an exhaustive investigation.

Guatemalan military held responsible for over 175,000 deaths

Two years later, he presented the findings in a 1,400-page work, Guatemala: Never Again! It outlined four decades of

assassination, torture, and massacres, including the death of hundreds of lay catechists. (I’ve been a catechist a third of my life.) The conclusion of his report pointed to the Guatemalan military being responsible for almost 90 percent of 200,000 noncombatant deaths and disappearances.

“The construction of the Kingdom of God entails risks”

“We are collecting the people’s memories,” Bishop Gerardi reported, “because we want to contribute to the construction of a different country. This path was and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Kingdom of God entails risks, and only those who have the strength to confront these risks can be its builders.”
Two days later, on April 26, 1998, military assassins ambushed Bishop Gerardi in his home. They smashed in his skull with a slab of cement.

The older I get, the more relevant history becomes to me. The United States of America could use a similar project (there probably already is one) to recover our memories of our own human rights abuses toward Native Americans and those we now call African Americans who had no interest in leaving their native country, homesteads, family, or friends when they were captured, kidnapped, sold, or exiled in our land almost four hundred years ago.

Speak Truth to Injustices

May I have the strength of good Bishop Juan to speak Truth to injustices, intolerances, racial jokes and atrocities. Opportunities, unfortunately, are plentiful.


“Years of terror and death have reduced the majority (of Guatemalans)

to fear and silence. Truth is the primary word that makes it possible for us to break this cycle of death and violence and to open ourselves to a future of hope and light for all.”

Bishop Juan Gerardi


source: Give Us This Day, Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, April 2016
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