Once again, in fulfillment of our sacred duty as pastors, we must convey our word to Catholics in particular and to the Panamanian people in general.
- In our April 5 communiquι, after expressing our hopes and fears for the coming election, we urged everyone, the government and the governed, candidates and voters, the military and civilians, conscientiously to assume his or her responsibility at this decisive moment for the future of our nation.
We congratulate our people for the patriotism demonstrated by their exemplary behavior during the massive and peaceful turnout at the polls Sunday, May 7. Such people have the right to live in freedom and to have their political will, which was so clearly demonstrated, respected as well.
- Unfortunately, we cannot say the same, in general, about our rulers: The efforts to intimidate, whether veiled or expressed, the restrictions on movement and expression, the assaults and the stealing of ballot boxes and official tallies, the "mobs" of military and paramilitary who attacked both property and people, are some examples of the flagrant attempts that have been made to thwart the popular will.
What possible moral justification could there be for routing with beatings and bullets men and women who have committed no crime other than to peacefully demand their rights? What possible moral justification could there be for intimidating the population through "hordes" fed by hate and a false nationalism that neither recognizes nor respects the persons and rights of other Panamanians?
- Among the intimidations and violations, we must protest forcefully the brazen attacks against some bishops, clergy and churches: disconnecting telephone lines, suspending electrical service, surrounding sanctuaries and blocking access to them, threatening or announcing possible arrests, suppressing religious radio programs and denying spiritual attention to those who have been imprisoned.
In that same vein, we protest the manner in which, on the afternoon of May 9, the residence of the archbishop of Panama was surrounded by military and paramilitary forces who showed no restraint in firing their weapons, in throwing their "contaminated water," in beating people or arresting them for the sole crime of being concerned about and showing solidarity with their pastor.
We have likewise watched with consternation, along with the rest of the world, as the presidential candidates of the Democratic Alliance of Civic Opposition were rounded up in a vile manner, savagely beaten and attacked in a cowardly way at the end of their march through Santa Ana Plaza at noon yesterday (Wednesday).
But all that reached its climax with the murder of Father Nicolas Van Kleef, CM, at Santa Marta in the Diocese of David. The death of Father "Nico" is tangible proof of the contempt for human life and the human person that has been evident in certain instances and of the irresponsibility with which weapons are being given to those who lack the capability or the judgment to use them properly. We join in the public declarations of the bishop and presbyteral council of David and of the Vincentian Fathers of Panama, and likewise repudiate the disproportionate measures (detentions, seizure of license plates, control of buses, low-flying planes) used to prevent many of the faithful from attending Father Nico's funeral.
- With sorrow and surprise, we learned that the election tribunal has nullified the recent election, basing their action on the Constitution and the electoral code.
We believe that the alleged deeds and causes for the declaration of nullity are surmountable, and we see in that decision a grave disrespect for the dignity of all Panamanians. In the name of God we urge therefore, on behalf of the dignity of the people and for the sake of the national conscience, that those immediately as well as those ultimately responsible for the official election returns, respect the will of the people as freely expressed at the polls. Not to do so would be a grave sin against the nation.
- We know that we live in difficult hours. As we said in our previous communiquι, "It may be the last opportunity that we have to resolve our differences in a peaceful manner." As pastors, we must be builders of peace; therefore we once again offer our good offices to search, without ignoring the will of the people, for paths of reconciliation that will permit us to live in happiness and brotherhood.
We appeal to our military brothers, who have the force of arms, not to use them against a defenseless people, whose only weapon is a firm will to live with dignity and peace.
We reject all violence, from whatever source, not only because it is against the Gospel, but because it will only engender violence and, in the long run, sink us all in a sea of tears, blood and mourning, as we experienced in the recent events in Santa Ana Plaza.
We ask for the solidarity and prayers of the churches and brother people of Central America, in particular, and of Latin America in general, that Panama may "finally attain victory on the happy field of concord."
At the end of the Easter celebrations and on the eve of the feast of Pentecost, we pray that the Lord will pour out his Spirit in abundance upon the Panamanian people, so that, strengthened by his gifts, we may bring forth his fruits of peace.
This communiquι is to be read at all Masses celebrated in Panama next Sunday, May 14, the feast of Pentecost.