Articles in the press on the killing of the four Brothers

We print below some short extracts from articles that have appeared in the press on the killing in Zaire of the four Marist Brothers: Servando, Miguel Àngel, Fernando and Julio. The generous sacrifice of their lives has had an enormous impact and the witness they have given has been received with widespread admiration. The press, radio and television have contributed greatly to making known this witness and have contributed to a heightened awareness and appreciation of the lives of missionaries who work among people suffering the effects of injustice and hatred.
The Sacrifice of Lives
Santiago MARTÍN (ABC, 15-11-1996)

I have known the Marists for many years, though I never attended their schools. I know them and love them. My great friendship with many of them dates from the time when I shared with them in the Focolare spirituality. It was then that I got to know Julio Rodríguez, one of the four “martyrs” who have given their lives for Christ in Zaire. Julio was a young man who possessed all the qualities that Marcellin Champagnat wanted his Brothers to have. He was simple, upright, hard-working and pious. In him there was neither insincerity nor that dichotomy, sometimes found in some of the clergy, in which there is little relationship between life on the one hand and high-sounding phrases about commitment to the poor on the other. That is why he went to Africa, where he spent many years labouring in the service of Christ and of people.

That is the first thing I want to point out about this young man and his companions, and I stress it because I have noticed that nobody is mentioning it these days.. The Marists whom I know, and Julio in particular, were not “humanists”. They were not in Zaire out of love for a vague “humanity” in general or for a marginalised people as a whole. As Chesterton said of St Francis of Assisi, the woods did not prevent him from seeing the trees. They were in Africa because they believed in Christ and because they had very big hearts which had room for every man and woman individually who walked into their lives with outstretched hand and tears in their eyes.

But they were wrong in one thing. I don’t know which of them it was, because we have no detailed
information yet, but a hidden witness heard one of them cry out “My God, we’re going to die. Have mercy on us!” The one who uttered those words was mistaken, for it was not on them that God needed to have special mercy.

No, they were not the ones in need of God’s mercy or at least not so much. We are the ones who stand in greater need of it.

Have mercy, Lord, on the world’s politicians, especially those who indulge in ridiculous, long-winded discourses while millions are dying of hunger or are being slaughtered. Have mercy also on the murderers, whether Hutus or Tutsis. Forgive those who murdered my friend Julio and his companions. Forgive those who killed the other innocent victims.

But don’t exhaust your mercy on them, Lord. Keep some for me too, for those of us who are neither politicians, nor Tutsis nor Hutus. Forgive those of us who think we are exempt from any responsibility in this situation and are shocked that other people are doing nothing. Forgive us for thinking that criticising others and salving our conscience with the odd alms-giving lets us off the hook as regards doing something more ourselves.

Have mercy on us, Lord, and don’t treat us as our inaction, our selfishness and our laziness deserve. May the blood of these sons of yours, who died in your name, rise up not to condemn us but to intercede on our behalf.

In return, Lord, I promise that I will not allow myself to be discouraged by the disappointments that fill my heart, that I will not ask where you are hiding yourself when I’m let down by a representative of your Church. In return, and without wishing thereby to “buy” the mercy I need, I promise that I will work harder, pray more earnestly, forgive more frequently, and ask more often for forgiveness from those whom I offend. I can’t love you by going to Africa, giving up my life for you to the mercy of fever, hunger or murder. But I can burn myself out for you here, in this battlefield that is my cross and my glory. Accept my life, Lord, as you have accepted the lives of these four new martyrs, and, like them, give me the strength to persevere to the end. Take pity on my failings and sustain me in a struggle that proves too much for me.

Congratulations to the family of the victims and to the Congregation to which they belonged. I feel for them and share their sorrow. But our Brothers are in heaven and their names and that of the Church are written there too.

Real Christians
Luis, obispo de Segovia. (” El Adelantado de Segovia “,15-11-1996)

“… Greater praise, however, and deeper admiration are due to those who freely give their lives in the service of their neighbour. The Marists are called Brothers not only because such is what they are within their religious congregation, but also because they project outwards that brotherhood which inwardly they live. The four Brothers murdered in Bugobe (Zaire) readily responded to the appeal of their Superi-ors on behalf of these unfortunate people, and there they willingly remained in spite of their own premonitions as to what the outcome might be.

To all, especially to the most needy, they freely offered civilisation, culture, food, faith in God, the Gospel and their love as brothers. They even went as far as to denounce what was happening in the hope that they might be instrumental in preventing the tragedy. Yet there still remained something for them to do, surely the most important. Many times they had heard these words of the Master :” Greater love than this no-one has than to lay down his life for his friends.” And they made a free decision to give this supreme witness.

They would surely not want to be awarded posthumous medals for bravery or solidarity. Nor would they wish to be regarded as heroes. Just brothers, Marist Brothers. The manner of their death was a parable, putting into action, as Jesus did, the words of the Gospel: “Unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, itself remains alone, but if it dies it produces much fruit”…

The stuff of martyrs
Manuel JIMÉNEZ DE PARGA (“EL MUNDO”, 15-11-1996).

Religious whose apostolate is education, as in the case of the Marist Brothers, spend their lives transmitting knowledge and giving their pupils the basic formation to be and live as good Christians. Thousands of hours are spent in such a task. I can bear witness to the selfless work of the Marist Brothers, labouring tirelessly and almost anonymously, for I had the good fortune to spend twelve years with them in the their college in Granada.

But it was not by word but by their martyrdom in Africa that four sons of Marcellin Champagnat gave their own final witness. There could be no more powerful way of doing so. Sometimes one deed is more effective than a thousand words. Many people who till now have had only a vague idea of what a Marist Brother is have suddenly become great admirers of them. The old saying of Tertullian is again being fulfilled : ” The blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians”…

Albert Schweitzer, no stranger to tragedy, used to say that no Christian martyr ever made any resistance to violence. The immolation of Christ was freely accepted. The weapons of missionaries are their hunger for justice, and peace is what they strive for. The Marist Brothers use the spoken word in their daily task of teaching. And they die in silence, bearing witness to what they taught during their lives. Such is the stuff of martyrs.

Héroes in Zaire
Justino Sinova (“El Mundo “, 14-11-1996)

From out of a world which is incapable of coming to the aid of a great African tragedy arises the heroic example of missionaries, four of whom we know to have violently lost their lives on 31 October at the hands of Hutu militia. Now the world regards them as heroes and martyrs, which indeed they were. Alfonso Rojo told yesterday in his report of the outstanding generosity of the four religious who, aware of the possibility of being killed, nevertheless remained at their post, handing over their truck to allow two local priests, a seminarian and a group of sisters to escape. And Rojo continued : ” a terrible loneliness and a sense of helplessness engulfed the four Marists in the hours leading up to their deaths.”

Their bloody end is all the more moving in that the four religious had buried their lives there in order to stand by people in dire need. Not politics but charity was their business, and violence was meted out to them in return. What a terrible injustice ! It would, however, be a mistake for us to judge the greatness of their self-surrender by this final violent end. Heroism consists not only in death for an ideal, but also in the day-to-day total commitment to one’s neighbour, expecting nothing in return…