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September 26, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 119




Tom Fox 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.

Born in Chicago, Carney had begun work as a Jesuit missionary in the country in 1961. For the next 18 years he worked, slept and ate with the poor rural parishioners with whom he lived. Among them he was known as "Padre Guadalupe." He was 58 at the time of his disappearance.

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 went as a representative of the Carney family. This year, because of age and health problems, I was the only one who could go. Other members of the immediate family have repeatedly made the trip over the years, but this year I alone represented the family.

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?
I joined a press conference hosted by a group representing the families who have had family members disappeared -- in short, eliminated -- most often for working in human rights. While there we visited a cooperative farming community that recently secured 1700 acres of rocky land. It was a dirt-poor community. We celebrated mass and the community put on a play about Lupe. I visited several parishes where Lupe had served, attended mass, joined a march through a town, and took part in commemorative celebrations in a local park.

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?
A: Well, I learned that Honduras is in a time of crisis. For example, outside of Progresso, there is a factory with 7,000 to 8,000 workers. The workers get paid $7 to $8 a day. In Nicaragua they are paid $4 to $5 a day. And some factories had pulled up stakes and moved to another country with no severance pay for workers. They just disappear and pay no taxes to Honduras.

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?
A good honest question! My first question would be, "Why should a U.S. citizen give a hoot about any poor country or countries?" Because such countries are the world's future unless you kill them all off. Their birth rate is up. They do share and will share this planet. They do have resources we need and have been exploiting. Basically, I see Honduras as just an example of most of the world's population, underfed, undereducated, wonderful human beings trying to cope and raise their families with meager means.

Any other thoughts?
Allow me a few words about Lupe's book. The autobiography of Fr. James Carney in English is called To Be A Revolutionary. He believed the gospel of Jesus called for a spiritual, economic, and political revolution in values and structures for the human family whereby we could live as equals.

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: 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

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