Statement from Bishop Ruiz Garcia on Acteal Massacre, December 31, 1997

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

December 23, 1997

In Rama is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her chiildren are no more. (Jer 31:15; Mt 2:18) 

To the whole pilgrim People of God in our suffering diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas: To all our brother and sister pastoral agents: 

If we might have forgotten that the true Christmas comes in the tragic context of oppression and domination (Lk 2:1-2), of insecurity and of closed doors (Lk 2:6-7), of persecution and exile (Mt 2: 13-15), and even of real genocide (Mt 2: 16-18), the events of these days in Chenalho have come to recall it to us. 

The greatest good fortune that the world has known--the birth in our flesh of the Word of God--came about in the sorrowful context of the greatest suffering. The true light broke through the darkest cloud. 

Christmas this year is, for the Christian people of our diocese, of our state, of our entire country, a sad and sorrowful Christmas. 

Not only is the number of those confirmed up to now killed (45) and wounded (25), many of them children, an ignominious disgrace, but above all so is the climate of growing violence and impunity, zealously brought to the attention of the authorities who could have prevented this terrible catastrophe. 

There are so many causal circumstances that make of this sorrowful happening a true crime against humanity:

  • The fact that the attack was carried out by armed, adult men against an unarmed group principally composed of women and children.

  • The fact that the group victimized, "Las Abejas" (The Bees), are a group that has specifically made known to the four winds and for a long time now its commitment to civil, peaceful, non-violent means to achieve their goals, even while living and working in the heart of an area where violence dominates.

  • The fact that the victims were a group of people who had recently been physically forced to abandon their homes and villages and were now in Acteal as displaced people.

  • The fact that the attack had been caried out precisely at the very time that they had been gathered in the chapel of the town to pray for peace, praying indeed for those who would presecute them. We know that such was the Christian character of those brothers and sisters. What a horrible paradox that the very day that the newspapers reported that in the northern parts of the state, thanks to the efforts of the Apostolic Nuncio, some of the chapels that had been closed and occupied by armed civilian groups and the public security police, could be opened again, on that very day, in a chapel in the highlands, all those Christians had been massacred! Violence broke into, invaded, the sacred space. Into such a profoundly religious people! The millennial Judeo-Christian tradition of regarding church buildings as "sanctuaries" for the persecuted was here trampled under foot.

  • The fact that today, very early in the morning, the state authorities ordered that all the bodies be collected, justifying their actions with legal arguments about health concerns (they spoke of the need to conduct autopsies or to prevent contagion), have added a further and no less serious affront to the survivors of the massacre. They have come to us, begging: "We want to bury our dead! Don't let them take them away!" Anyone who knows the indigenous soul knows how absolutely essential it is that they perform the rites of mourning, that they weep over their dead. Are they to be denied even this consolation?

How difficult it is for us, at this moment, to say "Happy Christmas!" To our human consciousness, it seems that the child has been born dead. 

Only by faith and the aid of revelation can we understand that this is the true Christmas. It is this, and not the consumer society, that allows us to enter deeply the mystery of the Incarnation. Here in Chiapas something new is being born, and the birth is not complete without these bruising doses of sorrow (Cf. Jn 16: 21-23; Rom 8: 18-27). 

On the other hand, it is just when we come to these limits of irrationality that hope--the hope that opens up new paths for living together as brothers and sisters--breaks into many of the hearts that had been in a state of lethargy, for this is the theological virtue of Hope that gives light to this time of Christmas. 

Herod sought, but could not achieve, the death of the Child . Nor can they succeed today, even though so many innocents have had to water this harsh and arid soil with their blood. 

We ask, we strongly beg, we beseech in the Name of the God of Peace that those who have committed this crime seek peace with God and with their consciences, putting aside not only their arms but their totally uncalled for posture of hatred and violence, whether forced upon them or freely chosen. 

To our beloved Tzotzil brothers and sisters of San Pedro Chenanhó, we want to say that we are accompanying you in this saddest Christmas of our lives, and that we pray to the Father of Jesus that you will keep faith with the Sermon on the Mount and that your hearts will not give in to the understandable temptation to hatred and vengeance. Give honor to the convictions that inspired the victims and that inspire their survivors! 

To all the parishes and missions of our dioceses, Don Raúl (who is presently in Rome) and I ask you to consider this Christmas of '97 as "A Day of Mourning with Hope," and that, with your communities, you find the appropriate ways of giving this coloration to the celebration of the Lord's birth, both in the matter of liturgical expression as in the ways that can offer support and solidarity to the victims of the massacre. 

To all men and women of good will, whether as individuals or as members of solidarity groups, both in Mexico and abroad, who have sent their word of support to these communities, or even their protest and denunciation to the appropriate authorities, we express our most sincere thanks. 

May the Lord God of heaven and earth who sent his Son who, by assuming our human nature, would offer himself for our salvation and bring us his peace, bless us all. 

Mons. Samuel Ruíz Garcia
Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas