Update on Fr. Loren Riebe Many of you have sent letters on behalf of Fr. Riebe, the priest of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas who was falsely accused and unjustly expelled by the Mexican authorities in June 1995. Ever since then, repeated efforts made by the Mexican Bishops' Conference, the Diocese of San Cristóbal, the US Catholic Conference and literally thousands of individuals have failed to move the Mexican authorities.
CEPS--the Social Concerns Committee (Comisión de Pastoral Social) of the Mexican Bishops' Conference has recently informed us that some eleven additional foreign-born priests and religious of the San Cristóbal diocese have had their migration papers held back in the Instituto Nacional de Migración, an action some fear could lead to their expulsion, as Frs. Loren, Paul Nadolny, svd, Allison Mahoney, csc and two other priests were forced out in 1995.
Fr. Alberto Athié, the director of CEPS, notes that the Bishops' Conference is working with the government to try to regularize the process of accrediting foreign church workers. The problem is rooted, Fr. Athié says, in the government's coming to understand that "the Catholic Church in Chiapas is not the protagonist of the violence, as was said previously." Of the 11 missionaries who might still have difficulties with migration, three are women religious from the US.
Request for Letters of Support Coming up on March 12, the people of Fr. Riebe's parish of Yajalon are planning a march in support of peace and reconciliation with justice--and for the return of their priest, Padre Loren. For twenty years, Loren Riebe was the pastor of Yajalón's St. James the Apostle parish, serving 25,000 people, most of whom are Tzeltal Maya. He trained catechists for pastoral work in the 54 villages that make up the parish, and established schools and boarding facilities to provide young indigenous boys and girls an opportunity to obtrain an education. And then, on June 22, 1995 he was summarily arrested, flown to Mexico City and expelled the next day--without notice of charges or presentation of evidence or presumption of innocence or opportunity to offer a defense, without counsel, without appeal, sin nada. The only "charges," it later emerged, were secret complaints consisting of patently false political gossip.
Since the departure of their pastor and the growing militarization of the "Northern Zone of Conflict" in Chiapas, the people of Yajalón and other indigenous communities have been increasingly subjected to intimidation by the constant presence of military patrols, right-wing paramilitary groups, and overflights by military aircraft. Last May, a confrontation between the people of the neighboring town of Bachajón and a paramilitary group called "chinchulines" led to six deaths and the torching of the doors of the rectory and convent.
The people of Yajalón want a peaceful resolution of the conflict but they rightfully insist on a peace that acknowledges their identity as an indigenous people who have inhabited the lands now threatened by commercial interests for many centuries. Fr. Riebe will not be allowed to join his people in their demonstration for peace and justice on March 12 but has asked that letters of support for the people be sent in his behalf on that date. Just a short note expressing solidarity with the people in their quest for peace and reconciliation with justice: FAX: 011-52-967-40442.