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.