The pre-Christmas massacre of 45 women and children in the little village of Acteal in Chiapas is only the most dramatic of a constant series of violent attacks upon persons seeking to bring about peace, justice and reconciliation in that conflict-ridden state. Bishop Samuel Ruํz of San Crist๓bal de Las Casas, his coadjutor, Bishop Ra๚l Vera, O.P., several priests and religious of the diocese and scores of catechists have been physically as well as verbally attacked, adding up, as the bishops have said, to "a true persecution of the Church."
In the past year, USCC has publicly communicated its concerns about specific violations on three occasions:
- On March 21, after two Jesuit priests and two campesinos had been arrested and held incommunicado for over 24 hours before the bishop was able to see them, Bishop Pilla expressed the concerns of the USCC in a letter to the President of the Mexican Conference, also enclosing letters Archbishop McCarrick, chairman of the Committee on International Policy, had sent to Secretary Albright and the then Ambassador from Mexico, Jes๚s Silva-Herrzog. The charges against the priests were totally fictitious, but were designed, as Bishop Vera said, to harm the work that the Church is doing among the indigenous .
- On July 7, Archbishop McCarrick wrote to Bishop Ruํz, thanking him for a recently issued manifesto of the Diocese, laying out in great detail the "situation of persecution" that the Diocese has been suffering, especially since January 1994, the time of the Zapatista uprising. The archbishop promised "to do what lies within our power to call attention to the intolerable situation and to press for positive change."
- And on December 31, the archbishop again wrote to Bishop Ruํz concerning the December 22 massacre, "joining our own sorrow with yours and that especially of the suffering Tzotzil people of your Diocese ... We pray that out of this darkness, the Light of the new-born Christ will illumine the hearts of all and will bring those of hardened hearts to conversion. The tragically stalled peace talks must be re-started with new vigor so that the new year may at last see progress toward justice, peace and reconciliation among the people of Chiapas."
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