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April 27, 1998
The murder last night of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala City and a tireless defender of human rights, comes as a terrible shock. Our first thought is to offer our prayers and condolences to all who were close to him, especially his fellow bishops and his colleagues in the Archdiocesan Human Rights Office, and to express our solidarity with the Church and people of Guatemala.
Bishop Gerardi was well known to many in our bishops' conference who have been privileged to visit Guatemala on delegations of solidarity with the suffering Church there. While Bishop of Santa Cruz del Quiché during some of the worst violence in the three decades of repression that Guatemala has known, Bishop Gerardi and several of his priests and religious were verbally and physically attacked, resulting in a decision in 1980 to remove the entire pastoral team from the region. The bishop later took up pastoral duties in the Archdiocese of Guatemala, with special responsibility for the Church's work in defending human rights.
The Church of Guatemala has long been a leader in defending the rights of the poor, and has paid a heavy price with the death or expulsion of many priests and religious and the murder of literally thousands of the Church's lay catechists. Just last Friday, April 24, the Church of Guatemala commemorated those tragic times with a ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral and the presentation of the final report of the church-sponsored Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory, a four-volume report entitled "Guatemala: Never Again." Bishop Gerardi coordinated the laborious task of gathering data on the past atrocities, of interviewing thousands of witnesses and survivors, and compiling the most thorough account ever of the massacres, killings and other human rights violations committed by all parties throughout the 36-year war.
It is not yet known if his killer was politically motivated, although spokespersons for the Archdiocese suggest the likelihood of such. Whatever comes to light about the reason for this despicable crime, Bishop Gerardi's legacy as a great defender of the fundamental rights of the human person, created in the image of God, will be a lasting one, not only in his native Guatemala but wherever people continue the struggle for life and dignity.
Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Catholic Conference
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