During this Lenten season, as we approach the drama of Holy Week and the joy of Easter, we are deeply aware that we do not journey alone, but are companions on the journey with people throughout the world, especially those who live the drama of cross and resurrection in their daily lives.
We are especially attentive to both “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si, 49), as we stand at the foot of the cross, awaiting the joy of Easter morning. Here is one such story of this Lenten season.
On the night of March 3, Honduran environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her home. As co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Berta had led the Lenca indigenous communities in a non-violent struggle for the integrity of their indigenous territories.
She was a 2015 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded each year in recognition of the courageous efforts by persons from around the world to defend and protect the rivers, forests and lands from devastation due to destructive practices of governments and transnational corporations.
For many years, the Missionary Society of St. Columban has been at the forefront of efforts of the Catholic Church in Latin America and of Catholics around the world to protect and defend creation for current and future generations, including the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) and the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM). On the morning after Berta Caceres was killed, REPAM and GCCM had this to say:
“We join our voices to thousands of people…. Berta Cáceres’ death unites us in a mission in the defense of life, the earth, and the rights of future generations. This death cries out, rather than silences us. It moves us, and calls us to resist and to demand justice.”
For years, Berta and the Lenca communities fought to block the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam. The dam would have flooded large areas of land and cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for the Lenca peoples. In addition, it violated the rights and sovereignty of indigenous people to decide whether such mega-projects be undertaken at all. Berta was one of many environmental activists who had been persecuted and received numerous death threats for her work to defend the sacred rivers, forests and lands from further desecration.
Together with Catholics throughout the world, we offer our prayers for Berta’s family and join our voices to call for justice in the face of this tragic event, “that so violently robs us of a brave woman, mother, wife, activist and human rights advocate.” We also issue an urgent cry for the safety of Gustavo Castro, the only eye-witness to the murder, who is currently detained by Honduran authorities.
We know that the joy of Easter is the victory of Christ over death, and that life, not death, will have the last word. But even as we anticipate and eventually celebrate the joy of Easter, the passion of Christ continues in the drama of the poor to protect the creation which God has given to all of us to share with each other and future generations.
On behalf of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, and with Columbans who form an integral part of both REPAM and the Global Catholic Climate Movement, we offer our prayers and solidarity with Berta’s family, the Lenca community, and the people of Honduras.
As Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si, “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” are intimately bound together. May this season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter truly be a time of a deeper “ecological conversion” and “option for the poor,” as we respond to God’s call to reconciliation with justice and mercy.