Monday, March 5, 2012

Bishop Rómulo Emiliani's message from the National Prison Ministry

Message of Monseñor Rómulo Emiliani, CMF, National Prison Ministry at the end of the plenary of the commission held in Yoro, February 27-28, 2012

Dear brothers and sister, I intend to reflect in this message what we feel and reflect on in the face of the tragedy which overwhelms us these days in Honduras.

A chain of conflagrations
The fire spread out like a voracious dragon and was consuming lives, gobbling in its dark jaws and in an insatiable way 360 persons in the Comayagua penitentiary.  Not satisfied, it then jumped like a diabolical wild beast and destroyed the source of sustenance of 5,000 persons who labor in the markets of Comayagüela. Not content with what it had done, it retreats and goes to the city of San Pedro [Sula] and tries to annihilate the sick who are in the Social Security hospital.

Cause of the conflagrations
These conflagrations brought on by lamentable accidents hide another conflagration much more destructive in our country which is ongoing and feeds the blazes just mentioned: the [conflagration] of a most frightful corruption by which funds destined to be invested in sound infrastructures capable of resisting events such as fires and earthquakes remain in the pockets of a few; the [conflagration] of improvisation and mediocrity which  does everything in a half-way manner and without any quality controls; the [conflagration] of not having a serious plan of integral development for the whole country and the [conflagration] of egoism which makes us work among those who are like us], thinking very little in the poor who comprise most of those who live in our jails, who work in the public markets, and get medical attention in the Social Security [public] hospitals.

What happened in the prison?
We cannot imagine a relatively slow death where the lungs are filled with smoke at the same time as they close off the windpipe, provoking asphyxiation and poisoning the body, together with the flames which are burning their feet, their legs, their hands, their stomachs, their chests, their faces – and to feel the bodies of their companions which in desperation are falling one on top of another and piling up, forming a burning pyre with the flames ascending to the roof of the cell. And this in a dark night, because the electricity in the jail also went out, hearing all types of cries, mixed with prayers and pleas to their mothers or children, smelling burnt bodies, seeing flesh open in bloody fissures, so that, after so much rending noise, all that can be heard are tenuous moans, whispers which are fading out, and a deathly [sepulchral] silence; What is happening is that all are dying, there are very burnt, they cannot breathe…. they are already dead.
The word spreads, they come with faces trembling and hearts beating hard, expecting the worst – the families of the prisoners and they gather in a mass at the entrance to the penitentiary and cry out, plead, cry, wanting to see their sons and husbands. Confusion and crying, questions unanswered and lots of tension, and they want to enter; a clash with the police who try to impose order outside the prison, finally, chaos reigns in the Comayagua prison which is converting what was a prison an hour before into a cemetery in the middle of  prison bars. They are dead – now there are 360 dead, without crosses, without tombs, without grieving or glory. The mothers are crying and the children have become orphans. The Granja Penal – the prison – has been converted into a sad and disconsolate graveyard (camposanto, literally holy field).

Where was God?
From our Christian vision of life in the face of those who were burnt up, mystically “God was burnt” with them and a part of ourselves died with them. Why? Because the beautiful novelty of the Gospel consists in knowing that God is with us, in our midst and in us. By being in all, but especially his loving and merciful presence is with those who suffer and in them he endures what they are living. In addition, since we are members of the Body of Christ in history, what happens to one person happens also to the other. When we really love, we rejoice with those who are the object of our love if they are happy, and we share their sadness if they are suffering misfortune. Therefore, in Comayagua, in the prison, a part of us died. We are in mourning.

Let us give a response
What to do? Assure that this is never again repeated. Construct at least four penitentiaries and renovate the others, closing those which don’t meet the minimal conditions for security and rehabilitation. Approve the Penal Law. Check all the prisons and furnish them with fire extinguishers, fir hydrants, fire hoses, adequate electrical systems and implement a safe system of evacuation and have fire drills several times a year. Eliminate the judicial delays, accelerating trials for prisoners, knowing that more than half of those in the prisons have not been processed by the courts. Seek alternative mechanisms to avoid detaining and imprisoning under whatever circumstances persons when their cases are for light crimes which could be settled outside the prisons in community work projects an in cases where it is merited to wait for trial outside of prison. Compensate, by the State, in some manner the relatives of those who died and help that the wounded recuperate totally.
In general, recalling the sad conflagration of the markets of Comayagüela and the San Pedro Social Security [hospital], demand as much as possible that all construction meet the norms set by the Fire Companies of the place and apply the law precisely for those establishment which don’t fulfill the minimal demands fro security. And before constructing a new market in Comayagüela, pay for the damages of all those who worked there equal to what has arisen in the new prison of San Pedro.

God bless you.

I have posted the original Spanish here on my Spanish blog here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Honduras Bishops statement on violence

In Defense of Life: Statement of the Honduran Bishops Conference

“¿What does it value a person to gain the whole world if you lose your life? ¿What price would one pay for one’s life?” (Mark 8: 36-37)

Jesus Christ loved us to the extreme of giving his life so that we might have, in Hon, eternal life. With these two questions which are directed at all humanity, He invites us to chose life as the gift of God and to everything that threatens life.

We consider respect for human life and its dignity a natural right which no one can violate.

With deep sadness we have lived a new calamity in the prison world which, in the  prison of Comayagua, has caused 360 victims dead as well as the sorrow and desperation of their families. We ask the respective authorities for a complete investigation of the deeds and we are in solidarity with the statement of the bishops and priests of the diocese of Comayagua,
“We ask the live groups [literally, the forces that are alive] of the Honduran society so that, united, we demand that our authorities improve the conditions of imprisonment and the means of human security in the prisons in order to safeguard the integrity and dignity of those deprived of liberty and in order that such a lamentable tragedy is not repeated, a tragedy which has brought grief to so many Honduran families and saddens all of us.”

The deplorable situation of most of the prison centers of the country obliges us to consider this problem as a grave threat to the human rights of the person who live deprived of their liberty. Because it is not only a case of stacking up [of prisoners], lack of hygiene or food; it is a case of all the problems of violence, killings, corruption, psychological torture, drug addiction, immorality, illegality, etc. which is lived out inside the prisons. The State is responsible for their lamentable conditions through the prison authorities as well as by those responsible for justice [literally operators of justice] who maintain an inordinate judicial delay.

In Honduras, the problem of violence has a unusual seriousness  what demands of us serious reflections and commitments inspired by the values of the Kingdom of God, which is a Kingdom of Justice, Love, and Peace.

Aggressiveness, which we all have, is a positive dynamism which lets us defend ourselves from dangers, threats, and attacks. But an uneducated aggressiveness or one influenced by negative family or social models gets translated into violent attitudes.

Violence is, also, a human reaction against certain aggressions. And in this sense there are serious reason to fear outbursts of violence, not only in the prison population but in the general Population of Honduras which feels itself constantly assaulted by those corrupt members who are in the very heart of the state’s Security Forces, by the consequences of impunity, by the lack of responses of the state powers to their just demands, by the unfulfilled promises and the partisan and populist politics which benefit a very few but upset the majority.

A culture is being built which justifies violent conduct  because it is not able to condemn machismo, because it accepts violence as a consequence of social competitiveness and allows as normal contempt and rejection between social groups which, feeling and thinking themselves different from the others, dismiss each other mutually and confront each other violently.

In such a culture, society becomes incapable of glimpsing a better future, forgets its values and loses [exhausts] its morals. When this happens hope is also lost [exhausted].

The Catholic Church, facing this reality, presents the proposal to work for “A CULTURE OF PEACE AND RESPECT FOR LIFE.”

By means of this campaign, developed by Caritas, it seeks to create a climate of respect for life and human dignity at the national level, contributing  to the construction of a tolerant and fair [equitable] society, centered in the respect for and the well-being of the human person.

We exhort [people], then, to take an active part in this campaign and we convert [ourselves] into instruments of the Peace which Christ offers to the world. Every conversion finds a special moment in the season of Lent which we have begun this Ash Wednesday: Conversion to Christ, “our peace” and to the neighbor, our [sister and] brother.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for Lent 2012 tell us
Today too, the Lord’s voice resounds strongly summoning each one of us to be concerned for one another. Today God continues to ask us to be guardians of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual care and attentiveness to the well-being of the other, to the other’s complete good.. The great commandment of love for one another demands and urges us to become conscious that we have a responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego [an other I], infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts.
But this way of looking as brothers and sisters which permits us to recognize in the human being the image of the Creator and in each brother and sister an “other me”, we are only going to acquire as the fruit of an education received from infancy and consolidated in our youth. Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for World Peace Day 2012 affirms that education is “the most fascinating and difficult adventure of life.”

The pope considers that to educate in truth and freedom as much teaches us to “recognize life with gratitude as an invaluable gift, [and] leads to discovering the profound dignity and the inviolability of every person.”

The new FUNDAMENTAL LAW OF EDUCATION, in article 2. declares that education “is a human right which every person has to have access to the understanding which results in the development of one’s personality and capabilities, in conditions of freedom and equality, taking as overarching point of  reference [eje transversal – transversal axis] respect for the dignity of the human being.”

The great problems – administrative, didactic, economic, and political – which the education system suffers in Honduras have to be resolved not only with the help of a new law but, above all, with the transparent commitment of the State, with the resolute participation of the educational community and the social oversight  which all of us who which a better country must exercise.

In regard to security in Honduras, this Bishops Conference declares it deep concern about the fragility of the institutions in charge of guarding the lives and the goods of those who live in this country.  Recently the National Police, an entity so needed to fulfill such purposes, has been seen to be very affected by illegal criminal actions, some of them really abominable, committed by member of this institution. We think that not all members of the National Police are involved in these deeds, but it is important to bring to light [these actions] and to apply the law to all those who have participated in criminal acts which stain the reputation of this state institution. therefore we demand the rapid and effective purification of the National Police, at the same time as we offer our spiritual services for their integral formation.

We ask the Lord to renew us in the hope of eternal life so that, from this hope we may commit all  of us believers, to make this human life a path of solidarity which makes us worthy of salvation. The Word of God presents us with a dilemma in the face of which we must choose: “Look: I set before you today life and happiness, death and curse… Choose life and you and your descendants shall live…”  Deuteronomy 30: 15, 19b).

May the Spirit of our Lord Jesus and His Mother, whom we invoke as the Virgin of Suyapa, illumine the heart of all Honduran men and women so that we may be able with courage to choose life, the gift of God, and to love it, respect it, and defend it generously.

Honduras Bishops Conference
Tegucigalpa, February 24, 2012

This is my quick translation. The original Spanish can be read here at my Spanish blog.