Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Guatemalans Cheer Pope, Cry for Peace: Bishops Present List of 77 Priests, Others for Study as Martyrs

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Guatemalans Cheer Pope, Cry for Peace: Bishops Present List of 77 Priests, Others for Study as Martyrs

Article excerpt

GUATEMALA CITY -- Huge crowds welcomed Pope John Paul II to their conflict-weary country, hoping the pontiff would help to end 35 years of civil war.

"He could make peace just by waving his hand," said Flor Munoz, a poor resident of Guatemala City, as she waited with approximately half a million people to hear the pope speak at the Campo Marte, a large, open expanse in the city.

The papal trip did boost languishing peace negotiations between the government and left-wing rebels. Guerrilla leaders declared a temporary cease-fire and pledged to provide the United Nations with reports on the location of land mines in the countryside.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu, who survived an attack on his life on the eve of the visit, welcomed the pope as a "messenger of peace." Arzu, inaugurated in mid-January, began his rule by overhauling the army's high command.

The Guatemalan bishops, known for their stance favoring the country's indigenous majority, presented the pope during the Campo Marte celebration with a "gift" -- a list of 77 priests, religious and catechists assassinated during three decades of brutal military repression -- prompting chants of "We want peace"

Bishop Jorge Mario Avila del Aguila of Jalapa, president of the episcopal conference, asked the Vatican to examine each case and consider them for martyr status.

The pope paid homage to "the hundreds of catechists together with some priests who risked and even offered their lives for the gospel" and who "with their blood fertilized forever the blessed soil of Guatemala."

Guatemala's military, known for horrendous human rights abuses, financed the $150,000 popemobile and provided an army tank driver for it.

The military may have been trying to soothe bad feelings left from the pope's 1983 visit, when Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who had seized power in 1982, ignored a papal plea for mercy and executed six prisoners on the eve of the pope's arrival. …

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