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|September 26, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 119
Priest of the poor
By Tom Fox, NCR publisher
Since he was reported missing in the summer of 1983, the death of Jesuit Fr. James Carney in Honduras has been the subject of intense investigations by his family, by human rights investigators, by Catholic leaders and by the poor people he served in Honduras.
When members of Carney's family went to Honduras soon after their brother disappeared, they knew that Carney, who had re-entered Honduras that summer as the chaplain to 96 revolutionaries, had put himself in danger. They were prepared to discover that the priest had died in a military action.
Honduras government officials told them they believed that Carney died of exposure while crossing the mountains bordering Nicaragua and Honduras.
However, the family soon heard second- and third-hand accounts that Carney had been captured by the Honduran military. Some said that the priest had been interrogated, tortured and executed by Battalion 316, a CIA-trained Honduran force known to have been responsible for the deaths of dozens of Honduran activists. Still others said that U.S. government officials knew of Carney's capture and had failed to intervene to save his life.
Two decades after Carney's death, he is considered a hero to people in Honduras, many of whom have remained active in the search to learn how he died.
Earlier this month, Carney's brother-in-law, Joseph Connolly, long known for his work at Communication Center #1 in St. Louis, Mo., and long-time friend, Don Connors, traveled to Honduras. I interviewed Connolly earlier this week about his trip.
Why did you travel to Honduras?
I also went as a person who had worked on Lupe's (Padre Guadalupe) case for 20 years, investigating how and why he died, and the Honduran and U.S. military involvement in his death.
Years ago I was asked by Lupe to publish his autobiography in English and Spanish after his death. He knew there was a great chance he would be killed in Honduras. In preparing his book, I became very familiar with his ideas and his battle for justice. I buy into his values and have grown to really love the man.
Further, I went to support the people of Honduras in their struggle. ERIC (the Social Justice Apostolate of the Central American Jesuit Province) had asked me to come to commemorate Lupe's death 20 years ago. A whole week was dedicated to his memory.
Finally, I went to finalize and coordinate the last details regarding the publication of his autobiography in Spanish. The English translation of the Spanish title is Just Call Me Lupe -- A Priest of the Poor. The Jesuits think Lupe was a prophet and saw 20 years ago what is happening to Honduras today. So, it was vital to get the book out now.
What did you do while you were in Honduras?
We went to the U.S. Embassy, which was fronted by several hundred soldiers and policemen in full battle gear. While there we tried to deliver a letter seeking help in Lupe's fate. I also attended two book launchings for Lupe's book in Northern and Southern Honduras.
Also during the trip we went to the CIA base from which the contra war was directed and visited the prison cell in which we think Lupe as held. We prayed there and celebrated a Mass. People came from all around Honduras. We also visited some of the feeding centers for children which Father Bob Voss, a Jesuit, runs for some 600 children.
So what were the lessons you learned from the trip?
I learned that the battle for control for water has a top priority. The big corporations want to take over water control, paying nothing for the infrastructure that has already been developed.
Honduras is a young country, with 50 percent of the population under 18 years of age. It is also an extremely beautiful country. Why is it so poor? Because many are farmers who have no land and these farmers must now compete against mechanized rich nation farmers who receive grant subsidies. The poor don't have a chance.
Why should Americans care about Honduras?
Any other thoughts?
Both the Spanish and English editions can be purchased through the Padre Guadalupe Memorial Fund, c/o Communication Center #1, 214 South Meramec Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63105, USA (email: ComCntr1@aol.com). It is a fabulous, challenging book while being a great read. The book explains Lupe's personal struggle and revolution and engages the reader in the gospel conversion to which we are all called.
Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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