My wife Joanne and a mutual friend from our parish and another couple from Milwaukee all went to Guatemala with the GATE program (GLOBAL AWARENESS THROUGH EXPERIENCE) for a ten day Holy Week pilgrimage. We were joined on the trip by three mental health therapists from Ohio. The group was skillfully shepherded by two nuns, one from the GATE project and the other a Milwaukee - Notre Dame Sister with many years of experience in Guatemala.
Joanne and I had a sense of what we might experience because we both had read Francisco Goldman’s book, The Art of Political Murder. The book is a detailed account of the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998 by the Guatemalan military.
I would like to recount eight stations out of over ten from our pilgrimage:
- visits with Guatemalan poet Julia Esquivel;
- an interview with the staff of NGO’s, ACOGUATE & NISGUA;
- the Guatemala City Cemetery and garbage dump;
- a discussion with Guatemalan worker
- a meeting with an indigenous community that developed a water project;
- a visit to an orphanage in Santa Apolonia
- a meeting with a Mayan spiritual leader;
- a visit to Holy Spirit Church - the site of one of the massacres of the indigenous people by the Guatemalan Military;
- discussions and visits to various projects at St. Lucas Toliman
- Santiago de Atitlan;
- Holy Week in the old capital city, Antigua.
Comments by Guatemalan people will be added.
Each posting will recount the experience of one or two events.
This first posting will describe our meetings with Guatemalan poet and theologian Julia Esquivel and our visit to the office of an N.G.O. from the U.S. called NISGUA.
Ist Station: JULIA ESQUIVEL, GUATEMALAN POET - THEOLOGIAN
So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of my experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
(James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man)
I came to the discussion with the following questions: does the myth of the passion and resurrection overcome the myth of capitalism; does the myth of the passion and resurrection provide healing, forgiveness and hope in confronting capitalism or does it simply support capitalism? Julia Esquivel provided comfort and cogent responses.
In Guatemala the questions are not academic; we would be in denial if we dismissed these questions for another time. In 1996 U.N. monitored peace accords were signed and, as a result, reduced the military intensity of civil war that had been raging for 36 years. Thousands of indigenous people were slaughtered during the civil war, financed by the Reagan administration, with the purpose of defending capitalism against a communist takeover.
The following is a comment on the peace accords published by an official Mayan Council:
The territory in the neo – liberal epoch
After an epoch of living terror in the territory of Guatemala, in December of 1996 a peace agreement was signed between representatives of the government, the army and representatives of the guerilla. In reality this peace deemed firm and permanent is no more than a false peace and is used for the development of only a few people. (Consejo Maya Chilam B’alam de los Kiches, Estudio Juridico de los Lugares Sagrados: Xetinimit, Mamaj, Talkuch, Awilix, Q’abitzad, ToJil, Mecanismo de Apoyo a los Pueblos Indigenas Oxlajuj Tz’kin, 2012, p.P.31)
Julia Esquival, who spent several years in exile during the war, said there was no hope in the government, but hope lies in the faith of the people – the communities. For example, they are resisting environmentally harmful mining projects where women are lying in the road in front of mining trucks. She asked us to imagine the courage it took for indigenous people to testify at the genocide trial of General Rios Montt. Julia indicated that sadness prevails and too much emphasis in the Holy Week rites is placed on the Passion and not enough on the Resurrection. She wrote in her published book of poetry, Threatened with Resurrection:
RESURRECTION ON THE MARCH
I am in love with life, Titanic task
The sun, the howling of , a divine task, ours:
mountain winds to make ourselves human!
The storm, the clap of thunder, Sole possibility
The songbird’s joyful singing, to live with meaning,
The rabbit’s delight, to know Life
The barking dogs, to fuse with her intimately,
And the promenade of the snails Illuminated!
After the rain.
AND WHAT DO THE PEOPLE SAY ABOUT HOLY WEEK in Guatemala?
A middle aged woman in traditional garb serving as a waitress in the Pan American Hotel in Guatemala City shared the following:
For some it’s fun and pageantry, I am a Christian, for me it is a time to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.
A nun sitting on the steps of the Cathedral in Guatemala City selling religious CD’s:
It’s about who we are, where we've been, and where we are going. The crucifixion and the resurrection go together as the same event.
2nd Station: ACOGUATE and NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala - based in the U.S.)
Two young workers, my guess under 30, explained their accompaniment duties. ACOGUATE and NISGUA workers accompany Guatemalans who are under threat because of their social activism. They provide an international presence. An example would be the indigenous people testifying at the Rios Montt genocide trial. I noted that it is not just Guatemala that is suffering a threatened existence; this is happening worldwide.
I asked, what is the cause? The response, without hesitation, from the young woman from Juneau, WI was – racism.