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December 27, 1989
The decision of the Apostolic Nuncio in Panama, Archbishop José Sebastián Laboa, to receive in that Diplomatic See (Embassy) Manuel Antonio Noriega has given rise to some public and private comments that seem to ignore the nature of such an action.
In the first place, the Church has been, is and will always be in favor of the safeguarding of human life, no matter the ethical or political quality of the person concerned.
In the second place with the acceptance of the person of Manuel Antonio Noriega in the See of the Nunciature (Embassy), Archbishop Laboa has freed Panama and the Panamanians not only of the anguish provoked by not knowing his whereabouts, but also of the risk that this could become an indefinite source of instability, hostility and grounds for a "guerrilla" action.
In the third place, Archbishop Laboa, during the seven years of his diplomatic and pastoral work in Panama, has given more than enough proof of his respect for the law, of his choice in favor of justice and his dedication to everything that could be of service to the well-being of the Panamanian people. That is why, being away from Panama at the moments in which the North-American action took place, he did not hesitate to return to our country in order to better serve the present and the future interests of Panama.
For all the above-mentioned, we are both surprised and sorrowful that there have been pronouncements or that certain actions have been undertaken which put into doubt the pastoral, humanitarian and diplomatic action of Archbishop Laboa, and his working for justice.
As Pastors of this Archdiocese, we support the decision of Archbishop Laboa and we are encouraged by the manner in which he acted. We are sure that his decisiveness will be in favor of the national peace.
May all of us pray more insistently that the Prince of Peace, whose birth we have just celebrated, will illumine Archbishop Laboa and all those who have to make decisions in these crucial moments.
Message of the Panamanian Episcopal Conference
December, 22 1989
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! ... How often have I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! " (Mt. 23:37).
Jesus pronounced these words with tears in his eyes as he gazed at Jerusalem. They bring to our minds the occasions on which, in numerous documents over the past several years, we pastors have insisted on the need to carry out peaceful, political measures to help out of the socio-political crisis which oppressed us. To this end it was extremely urgent for us all to be reconciled so we could reach an agreement as to how to avoid internal clashes and prevent severe international measures.
We regret that our words were not heeded and that the division between brothers has continued to deepen, due especially to oppression and to the systematic violation of human rights.
Right now we are saddened by the blood -- both Panamanian and foreign -- which has been shed on our soil. It cries to heaven for freedom, justice and dignity; it questions all of us whether we have really done everything possible to avoid its being shed.
We feel deeply hurt in our nationality, in our being as Panamanians. We feel as if our dearest sentiments and our ancestral aspirations have been trampled upon. A young and happy people, peaceful and a lover of freedom, is living days of invasion and uncertainty because of the U.S. military action, carried out with the declared purpose of getting rid of a dictatorial regime and installing democracy. Though this action has tried to be selective, directed toward the freedom of all Panamanians, we cannot but lament the deep wound inflicted on us as a free and sovereign nation, and the enormous human and material damages suffered, especially by the poor.
With those painful events we have stepped back in our history, reliving moments long past. We believe that basically this has come about as a result of the attempt to separate national sovereignty from popular sovereignty. One cannot affirm the former while forgetting the latter through the violation of human rights, the disavowal of the popular will, arbitrary arrests, the practice of torture, the absence of freedom of expression, etc. The Panamanian people did not find any effective help in the international community against these evils. With its onesided insistence on the principle of non-intervention, the international community rendered ineffective the second, no less valid principle of the popular will.
Even so, we wish to keep looking forward with optimism and hope. To this end we believe it necessary that national sovereignty be integrated with popular sovereignty, while fulfilling the following conditions:
a. It is urgent that a Panamanian civil government start working effectively and that it regain legitimacy and trust, both internally and on the international level.
b. There is need to restore social order through a police force that can guarantee public and private security with the strictest respect for human rights.
c. There should be an end to U.S. military action, as soon as possible, along with the assumption of political, police and military powers by the Panamanian civil government.
d. It is necessary to put into practice policies and actions that can help foment the unity and well-being of Panamanians, giving always priority to the needs of the most poor.
e. It is urgent that there be an immediate distribution of medicines, food and housing to humble people who are presently suffering the direct effects of the military action.
We call on everyone to put an end to the violent and vandalic action which has brought with it, during these days, disquiet and looting in an absolute irrespect for the right of others.
As we are about to celebrate Christmas, we pray to God who became man to " strengthen all weary hands and steady all trembling knees. " He will make "water run in the desert streams in the wasteland, the scorched earth will become a lake, the parched land springs of water" (Is. 35:3, 6-7).
May the Child of Bethlehem grant us conversion to be able to accept the values that lead us to reconciliation among all Panamanians and in the rebuilding of the new nation for which we have all been hoping.
As we pray with all our sisters and brothers in Central America for peace and for all the victims of violence we warmly impart our Christmas blessing.
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