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Communique from the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas

 

June 21, 1997 

To the Catholic community of Mexico, to our brothers and sisters of other Christian churches, to public opinion and the media: 

Moved by the urgency for peace and unity which the present situation of our country demands of us, we share with frankness the situation we are experiencing in Chiapas and that we know other dioceses in Mexico are suffering as well.

1. The Facts: 

Our Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, following the visit of the President of the Mexican Episcopate and of the Episcopal Commission for Peace in Chiapas, is experiencing a new wave of attacks on its pastoral work. That visit made clear the unity of the bishops and their deep concern about the low intensity warfare that we experience in the State of Chiapas, especially in the highlands, in the north, and in the forest. 

These attacks are not new, but what is surprising is the intensity of obviously false accusations such as those directed against Bishop Samuel Ruíz García, suggesting that he is the cause of the violence and the socio-political instability of the region, accusing him of distributing weapons, of directing the insurrection and every destabilizing act. 

Similar accusations have been made in some of the media against Coadjutor Bishop Raúl Vera López, and the pastoral workers who carry out their evangelizing tasks in the various parishes and missions, the catechists, those preparing for the diaconate, and the deacons, leaving them open to false charges, acts of agression, death threats and unjust legal actions including illegal arrest, as happened with the two Jesuits and the two catechists in Palenque on March 7. 

We are deeply concerned that various non-governmental organizations that have been singled out for their efforts for peace and service to the poor have also been victims of harrassment and false accusation. 

In the face of this situation of persecution, we offer here a short account of the numerous grievances starting with January of 1994: 

In the so-called conflict zones of Ocosingo, Margaritas amd Altimirano, we suffer the searches of parish houses, the harassment and menacing of pastoral workers and of the Altimirano Hospital, even including the pastoral visits we make to the communities. The army harasses, takes note of, films and tape records the Celebrations of the Mass. 

In many of the principal municipalities, so-called "peace marches," led by the municipal presidents, heads of the official party and landowners, are turned into acts of verbal aggression and threats against the bishop and the pastoral workers, and even the sad instance of an attempted rape of a woman religious.

 At the beginning of the conflict, the diocese suffered smear campaigns in the mass media of radio, television and the press when they put out false testimony of persons who, with tears, accused the bishop, the priests, missionaries and catechists of the violence. At a very critical moment in this smear campaign, there was a physical attack mounted against the bishop's house and the diocesan curia by members of the PRI from San Cristóbal calling themselves "autenticos coletos." 

The persecution has come to such a level that the foreign missionaries live in constant fear of being expelled. The authorities put them under pressure by watching their every movement, constantly calling them in to the migration offices, taking away their papers and delaying their migration processes. This has not only been at the level of threats but in concrete actions of unjust deportations and denials of permission to return to the diocese. At this moment, there are already seven priests (12% of the total of the diocese) who have been arbitrarily exiled, the most recent case being that of the Scottish priest, Henry McLaughlin. Some have been expelled on the accusation of carrying on activities outside their ministerial task, and Father Henry for saying Mass without permission of the government. Their real crime is that of serving Christ in the poor. 

The northern zone--Tila, Sabanilla, Tumbalá, Palenque, Salto de Agua, Bachajón and Chilón--has been the laboratory for the low intensity war, with its attacks against parish houses and churches with Molotov cocktails, with fomenting conflict within the communities and between organizations, the intimidating presence of soldiers and police, the aggressions of paramilitary groups calling themselves "Chinchulines" or "Paz y Justicia," whose criminal acts go unpunished, with rumors and threats. 

They seek to turn political conflicts into religious confrontations, trying to associate the Catholics with the Zapatista movement or with the PRD, pitting them against our brothers of other confessions whom they try to identify with the White Guards of the PRI who mindlessly attack the Catholics, forcing them out of their communities, shutting down, burning and destroying shrines, religious pictures and all things religious, even to the point of desecrating the Eucharist. The displaced have been witnesses to the ways the paramilitary groups are protected in their attacks by Public Security forces or the Army. These armed institutions have taken over some shrines and buildings belonging to the Catholic Church, some of which remain under their control. 

Some of the catechists have been subjected to summary judgments and have been jailed and tortured for not being willing to sign documents accusing the bishops and the priests of having given arms to the rebels. And some have been assassinated. Those unwilling to be incorporated into the paramilitary groups have been fined as much as 2,000 pesos and live under constant threat. 

With every effort from the civil society to denounce these actions or to respond in order to repel attacts in the communities, the bishop and priests are immediately pointed out as the ones responsible, accusations made also by some members of the Army, even to the point of insisting caluminiously that we have blessed the arms of the Zapatistas. In the face of these aggressions, all legal efforts by the diocese seeking redress have been useless. 

Some pastoral workers have had to petition for judicial protection but they continue to be irresponsibly accused of various crimes. The information recently put out by some writers in local papers suggest the use of telephone taps as a way of spying on our activities. 

We have alluded here to some of the direct attacks on the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas; it would be impossible to list them all, but we are not unmindful of the sufferings of many of our brothers and sisters who live under constant threat, exposed to every kind of agressive behavior for seeking to live a life with dignity and justice and to be loyal to their Catholic faith. And not a few of our evangelical brethren are experiencing similar situations, to whom we fell also very close. 

Not all the attacks come from government functionaries; there are other actors, but the impunity they enjoy, despite all denunciations, make the authorities responsible and complicit. All of this has begotten an atmosphere of lawlessness which puts our lives in constant danger and impedes our work of evangelization, of reconciliation and of human development. Therefore, we read this situation as a true persecution of the Church, not only of our diocese but of the Mexican Catholic Church.

2. Interpretation 

Reading these facts in the context of the government's behavior toward the diocese in these recent years gives us reason to assert:

that we are not dealing just with isolated acts, but with a well orchestrated campaign against our diocese; 

that all the media make it appear that the diocese is a causal factor of the conflict in Chiapas and as the obstacle to its solution; 

that the objective of the campaign is to discredit and undermine its credibility and moral authority. It seeks to stifle a critical voice which bothers the established powers and points out the contradictions between official rhetoric and actual behavior. 

that it tries also to disparage the mediating role of Don Samuel and of CONAI, unforgiving of their independent, critical actions. This has been the general note, but we see that, after the visit of the Episcopal Commission to Tila and its clear and strong call for peace, government officials have become even more radical in their statements and actions against the diocesan Church. 

that, on other occasions, the increase of these kinds of attacks has been the prelude to harsh measures against the poor, the indigenous and campesinos. 

that the logic of this behavior by the civil and military authorities shows us that unfortunately they are not looking for a political outcome, as they assert, but are rather carrying out acts of force, or giving impunity to those who do, thereby creating an irreversible situation in which it will be impossible to rein them in and will thus legitimize a military solution.

In conclusion we believe that they are trying to discredit an institution which could represent a brake on the genocidal acts of massacre against the people of Chiapas. And we should assume it will continue being the case that overcoming the general crisis that our country is today going through will first require finding an adequate solution to the crisis of Chiapas. Without a genuine solution for Chiapas, there can be no real solution for Mexico. This diocese which desires to serve the people and continue defending the rights of the poor has come to share their fate.

3. Our Appeal 

We invite our Catholics and our brothers and sisters of other Christian confessions to be aware that all these agressions against the Diocese of San Cristobal work against the peace process and are opposed to the legitimate aspirations of the poorest for a worthy and just life. In the face of the campaign of covering up or distorting the grave events being experienced in Chiapas, we invite the civil society to find ways to spread the true information and to denounce the deadly work of those who are determined to maintain their privileges at all cost. We urge all to show their creative and effective support and solidarity with the Diocese of San Cristóbal and its pastoral activity, which is born of an option for the Gospel and the Church. 

We invite the federal and state authorities to review their present policies and direct their actions to the solution of the real causes of the conflicts that our country is going through. Thus could reconciliation and collaboration of all structures of the society be possible so as to bring about a genuine peace. 

For our part, we wish to offer our cooperation with all groups that seek to defend human dignity and build a society of brothers and sisters where all can sit at the same table to share the bread of truth, love and justice, over which will preside our elder brother, Jesus Christ.

In restating our commitment to the truth and to peace, we confide our efforts and our weakensses to the generous protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, asking her intercession for our people before the God for whom we live. 

Fraternally, for the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas 

+Samuel Ruíz García, Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal
+Raúl Vera López, O.P., Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal
Fr. Felipe de Jesús Toussaint Loera, for the Presbyteral Council
Fr. Oscar Salinas Nájera, S.M., for the Pastoral Council
Sister Margarita Sánchez Díaz, M.F., for the Vicariate General
Fr. Gonzalo Ituarte Verduzco, O.P., for the Council of Vicars
Frs. Eugenio Alvarez F., Joél Padrón G., Heriberto Cruz V., José Luis Chanfón, S.M.   



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