From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 08:38:15


                        by Alexa Smith 
CINCINNATI--A Martyrs' Fund to help families of Presbyterian clergy killed 
because of their ministry was established by the 207th General Assembly as 
a first response to the torture and murder of a Mayan minister in Guatemala 
-- yet another in a string of deaths related to church work there. 
     The repeatedly stabbed and acid-burned body of the Rev. Manuel Saquic 
Vasquez of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala 
(NEPCG) was recovered from a shallow grave July 7.  Presbyterian partners 
here say his family and 23 others in the town of Panabajal are now being 
threatened with death by the paramilitary group, Gaguar Justiciero, which 
is claiming responsibility for Saquic's death. 
     Saquic was coordinator of the Human Rights Office of Kaqchiquel 
Presbytery and was pushing the government to investigate the death of 
another Presbyterian, Pasqual Serech, and the kidnapping & beating of 
Bartolo Solis, a presbytery Human Rights Office staffperson. 
     "Murder is going on ... its continuing," said former moderator the 
Rev. Herb Valentine, executive of Baltimore Presbytery, which pushed the 
Assembly to establish the Martyrs' Fund and to demand the government of 
Guatemala fully investigate the death of Saquic.  "These are human beings, 
members of the church ... [and] products of our mission," said Valentine, 
noting the NCPCG is the  continuous Protestant ministry in Guatemala, 
established by Presbyterians in 1882.  "They want the kinds of things you 
want -- the things you take for granted every day.  Basic rights ... [like] 
free speech, drinkable water, education for their kids." 
     Though Baltimore is a partner presbytery to Kaqchiquel, dollars from 
the Martyrs' Fund are to support any martyred pastor's family in any part 
of the world.  The Assembly ordered that Saquic's family will be among the 
first recipients of aid. 
     A spontaneous offering from the plenary floor gathered over $1,000 to 
initiate the fund and the Assembly urged presbyteries to find further 
dollars.  The fund will be dispensed by the Worldwide Ministries Division 
and managed by the Presbyterian Foundation.  Baltimore Presbytery intends 
to match the Assembly offering. 
     "This is a long-term investment," Valentine said, describing aid to 
families as ongoing.  "This is not a one shot thing." 
     In the early 1980s more than one million people were displaced in 
Guatemala, and, according to the American Academy for the Advancement of 
Science, at least 100,000 civilians have died in the last 40 years because 
of political chaos and violence fueled by centuries-old racial tensions and 
overwhelming poverty.  For instance, the National Institute of Statistics 
says the wealthiest 50 percent of Guatemala's population receives 91 
percent of the country's income.  UNICEF says only 54 percent of the 
population has access to health care; and the Guatemalan Association of 
Sanitary and Environmental Engineering reports 70 percent of the rural 
population does not have access to drinkable water. 
     "There is a price for discipleship for them [Guatemalan Christians]. 
A real price," said the Rev.  Ray Larson, outoing executive of Minnesota 
Valleys Presbytery, a partner with two presbyteries in Guatemala.  "When 
they take the Gospel seriously ... 
     "Those on the opposite side have ways and means of intimdating and 
eliminating them." 
     Larson said the life of one of his contacts there was threatened while 
Larson last visited Guatemala and a 23-year-old Mayan Presbyterian woman, 
who helped translate for the presbytery group, was kidnapped, raped and 
murdered -- with her hands and feet cut-off -- one year ago in March. 
     "Sixty percent of Guatemalan households are headed by women.  There 
are many reasons for this, but a very poignant one is the assassinations 
taking place among the male population," said Julia Ann Moffett, the 
denomination's coordinator for Central America.  Moffett said widows often 
have to move to another part of the country to live with relatives and 
children may drop out of school to help raise money for the family by 
shining shoes or doing household work. 
      Gifts to the Martyrs' Fund may be sent to:  The Presbyterian 
Foundation, Martyrs' Fund, Account #58153, 200 East 12th St., 
Jeffersonville, IN  47130. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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