April 8, 1996
Most Reverend Jorge Mario Avila
Bishop of Jalapa
President, Episcopal Conference of Guatemala
Ciudad de Guatemala
FAX: (502)(2) 93.18.34
Dear Bishop Avila:
May the Peace of the Risen Lord be with you! In the name of the bishops of the United States, I send greetings as you and the whole Church in Guatemala celebrate for the first time in over three decades an Easter in which the darkness of war is being dispelled at last. Lumen Christi; Deo gratias.
The news that the Guatemala National Revolutionary Union has announced an unconditional cease-fire and that the government has responded with its own promise to end military action against the guerrillas brings joy to all who have longed for an end to the decades-long conflict in Guatemala.
That yearning of your people for peace with justice dignity for all, and the suffering of so many people over these thirty-five years of insurgency and repression, is well known throughout the world, and certainly in this country. The memory of the uncounted martyrs of Guatemala, to which the Holy Father directed such prayerful attention during his recent visit, will stand as an ever-present symbol of the courage and steadfastness of the Guatemalan people, especially the indigenous people of the countryside. May their martyrs' blood become truly the seed of a new Christian flowering in your land.
We are proud to note that among the known martyrs of Guatemala, especially the many priests, religious and lay catechists who followed the example of the Good Shepherd in laying down his life for his friends, are several priests and religious from our own country. We are happy to count them among the Martyrs of Guatemala.
Last July, in your pastoral letter on reconciliation, peace and solidarity ,‘Urge la Verdadera Paz! , you offered a searing indictment of the evils that continue to plague your society--human rights violations, corruption and impunity , marginalization of the indigenous and the extreme disparity of wealth and poverty. But more than denunciation, you announced the gospel demand for the just and peaceful society and presented clear outlines of the task ahead, which is "to build the peace, pursue justice, make reconciliation possible for all Guatemalans and achieve a social-economic development in solidarity that will allow all to share the goods of the earth.
We applaud your renewed emphasis on the essential peace-making role of women, "builders of tile peace," on tile urgent need to address tile still unresolved problem of tile land to which you had devoted your 1988 pastoral, El Clamor par la Tierra, and your call for ending the historic discrimination and exclusion suffered by the indigenous peoples. The Agreement on the Identity and Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, signed just a year ago as part of the peace negotiations, provides the basic point of reference for this work of national transformation and reconciliation. In calling on each diocese to study ways the local Church can assist in the process, you have provided inspiration and example for the whole country to follow.
A few years ago, when a delegation from our Conference visited Guatemala and offered our support for the work of the Commission for National Reconciliation and its president, Bishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruρo, the U.S. bishops issued a statement expressing their solidarity with the Church in Guatemala. They pledged to keep the concerns of the Guatemalan bishops "before us and our people, as we will continue to keep in our prayers the needs of the church and people of Guatemala."
Over these years, we have sought to fulfill that pledge in various ways: in public support of your strong position in the matter of the massacre last October of returned refugees, in supporting the work of the several diocesan human rights offices, as well as the interdiocesan project on "recovering the historic memory," a truly innovative and hopeful contribution to the first requirement of every process of peace and reconciliation: to let the truth be known. We express our admiration for the gospel witness that the Guatemalan Church continues to present, we rejoice with you in the peace that has thus far begun to take hold, and we pledge our continuing solidarity in these important days, standing with you in the pursuit of peace and justice.
With assurance of our continued prayers for your ministry , asking the Lord to shower abundant
blessings upon the Church and people of Guatemala, I remain
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Anthony M. Pilla
Bishop of Cleveland