Jesus returns to Jerusalem...
Then taking the twelve aside he said to them, “Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man is to come true. For he will be handed over to the pagans and will be mocked, maltreated and spat on, and when they have scourged him they will put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again.” But they could make nothing of this; what he said was obscure to them, they had no idea what it meant. (Luke 18, 31-34)
We went by van on a short trip to parish of Santiago Atitlan. Both San Lucas and Santiago are on the picturesque resort Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan - Guatemalan Resort Area
Santiago Atitlan was the parish of Father Stan Rother from Oklahoma City. Father Rother was murdered by the Guatemalan military in 1981. We visited his church and the rectory where he was killed.
Patio of Father Rother's Santiago Church
The Pastor of San Lucas Toliman, Father Gregg Schaffer, warned his fellow pastor at Santiago Atitlan, Father Stan Rother, that the military was after Father Stan.
Father Rother was not politically ‘concientizado.’ There was nothing reported about him conducting clandestine meetings. No one says they remember Father Stan discussing the 1968 document of Medellin promulgated by the Latin American Bishops demanding changes in political and economic structures. The military targeted the pastoral priest because of his unrelenting support for his cherished parishioners. During an army attack Father Rother sheltered hundreds of people in his church.
At the advice of Father Gregg Schaffer, Father Stan Rother returned to Oklahoma City. He was invited to preach at an Oklahoma City church and he questioned Reagan’s claim that the communist threat in Central America justified the massive military assistance given to these countries. A parishioner reported Father Stan’s sermon to the Guatemalan embassy.
Memorial to Father Stan Rother, Santiago Church
Father Rother couldn’t be away from his beloved people while they were under attack. He returned to Santiago Atitlan to face the military bent on genocide. Within a few months Father Stan was murdered. His body was sent to Oklahoma City for burial but his heart remains enshrined in the church at Santiago Atitlan.
Nakal kolonton – My heart is at peace
*Laughlin, Robert, with woodblock prints by Naul Ojeda, Diccionario del Corazon, from a Mayan dictionary compiled in 1599 by a Dominican Friar - metaphors of the heart with the Spanish medieval translation and the modern Spanish version. Taller Leñateros, San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico 2003.
The name of the town 'Santiago' is significant. Many cities in Latin America are called Santiago. The name refers to St. James; some scripture scholars would speculate that St. James was Jesus’ brother and a Pharisee. A legend tells us that the remains of St. James, after martyrdom, were sent miraculously from the Holy Land by boat to northeastern Spain. James arose from the dead to lead Christians to a military victory over the Muslims. There is a city in Mexico called Santiago Matamoros – St. James the Muslim killer. Churches in Spain and Latin America have statues and paintings of Santiago Matamoros riding on his horse and wielding his sword.
I didn’t notice a painting or statue of Santiago in Stan Rother’s church or town. Again it was perhaps because of being overwhelmed by the stories of Rother’s murder and the slaughter of the indigenous in the area. I wasn’t looking for Santiago on his horse; after all we couldn’t blame him … or could we?
Matamoros is the name of a military post and prison in Guatemala City. General Efrain Rios Montt was taken to Matamoros Prison in 2013 after being convicted of genocide. A companion on the trip recalls the statue of Santiago Matamoros outside Stan Rother’s church, but does not remember a statue or painting inside the church.
Our next stop in Santiago was the Peace Park. (Parque de la Paz) At first I didn’t realize it, but just our presence was an acknowledgement of a victory for the people and a sign of hope for Guatemala. Two Guatemalan leaders, poet and theologian Julia Esquivel, and the head of the water project in Chutzoropi, stated unequivocally to us that there was no hope for Guatemala through the government.
Santiago Peace Park
We experienced a sign of hope when we visited the Peace Park. The people of Santiago Atitlan successfully rejected military force – the power of the government.
On December 1, 1990 a group of soldiers from the local military post were out partying and got out of control. They killed one of the townspeople who were trying to constrain them. In the morning thousands marched to the garrison to demand an end to the murderous rampaging of the military in Santiago. The townspeople were met with gunfire; eleven were killed and several injured.
Community leaders demanded a meeting with the Guatemalan government. With international support, an agreement was reached permanently removing the military from the town of Santiago.
Graves of the massacred at the Peace Park
The graves of those killed in the massacre are in the Peace Park along with a plaque stating the agreement of the government to remove the military from the area. There are no religious symbols such as Santiago Matamoros. However, every year on December l, a celebration takes place to remember the victory of the people; part of the celebration is a Catholic Mass.
Peace Park, Saturday, December 2, 1990, Panabaj, Santiago Atitlan
SISTER, WOMAN OF FAITH
by Julia Esquivel, in exile, New York City.
I think of the Indians
driven from Manhattan with blood and fire
and my heart
crushed by sorrow
along with other hearts in solidarity
struggles to turn back the claws of Capital
poised over Santiago Atitlan ...
The homeland is an altar – not a pedestal.
The Certainty of Spring, The Ecumenical Program, Washington, D.C. 1993