From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Presbyterian High School Honored by Guatemalan President

Date 05 Oct 1998 20:11:03

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    Presbyterian High School Honored 
    by Guatemalan President 
    by Stephen Bartlett 
    and Jerry Van Marter 
QUETZALTENANGO, Guatemala-Sept. 12 was a great day for the National 
Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala and the Presbyterian Church 
(U.S.A.).  The Colegio La Patria in Quetzaltenango, commonly known as 
"Xela" (pronounced "shay-la"), was honored by the president of Guatemala, 
Alvaro Arzu, with a rarely given award known as the "Order of the Quetzal." 
    The quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala as well as the name of 
the Guatemalan currency and a potent symbol of freedom in that country. 
    Two groups - the La Patria Alumni Association and the school's 
Administrative Committee - have lobbied for the award for a number of years 
as recognition of the school's quality of education.  Originally approved 
in 1993 by then president Serrano Elias, the actual giving of the award had 
been delayed by the internal political situation in Guatemala and strife 
within the Presbyterian community there, which led to a takeover of the 
school by racially motivated church secessionists. 
    La Patria has a current enrollment of 1,400 students and has graduated 
more than 40,000 students during its 80 years of existence in Xela 
(Quetzaltenango) and Guatemala City.   The Xela branch of the school was 
founded in 1917 by U.S. Presbyterian missionaries Eleanor Morrison and Ella 
    La Patria has trained and taught the value of Christian service to 
future educators, social workers, lawyers, accountants, church pastors, 
business administrators, bilingual secretaries and scientists.  The school 
has a rich tradition of reaching out to the least affluent sectors of 
Guatemalan society, especially the poor Latin and marginalized Mayan 
communities, by providing scholarships to many promising young people who 
could not have received such an education otherwise. 
    Arzu was joined on the stage of the school auditorium for the award 
ceremony by the entire Administrative Committee of La Patria, including the 
Rev. Mois‚s Colop, Vicente Son, Elfego de Le¢n, Cyrilo Romero and C‚sar 
Ajanel.  These Guatemalan Presbyterians have survived numerous personal 
threats during the Guatemalan civil war and also waged a successful court 
battle to win the school back from the secessionists in 1996. 
    Arzu, who has been instrumental in bringing peace to Guatemala after 
the 30-year civil war, emphasized the importance of education in the 
securing of a peaceful, civil society.  He praised La Patria as an example 
of the sharing that must take place - sharing of resources, education and 
opportunity among all Guatemalans. 
    Colop spoke of the history of the school and of the Christian values 
that define the school, including love for one's neighbor.  Colop praised 
Arzu for promoting the peace process in Guatemala and for initiating a 
literacy campaign throughout the country. 
    "The role of the school and the church is in large part to make peace 
with justice," Colop said.  "The positive impact of this colegio in 
Quetzaltenango is part of the network of Christian service of the 
Presbyterian Church throughout the country, given that dozens of literacy 
promoters, agricultural extensionists and health workers are at work 
fulfilling the mission of the church in many rural areas." 
    The sources of pride for the PC(USA) are numerous: founding and setting 
the educational and social priorities of the school 80 years ago; 
supporting the efforts of the Guatemalan Presbyterians to regain control of 
the school in recent years; being present as "accompanists," traveling to 
Guatemala over the years to support the human rights and physical safety of 
Latin and Mayan Presbyterians who were under threat because of their 
political and religious work to transform Guatemalan society. 
    And the profound thanks of U.S. Presbyterians should go to the 
Guatemalan Presbyterians, who have persevered and who run great risks to do 
the work of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of us who seek to follow Him. 
(Stephen Bartlett, a member of Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church in 
Louisville, represented the Worldwide Ministries Division of the PC(USA) at 
the ceremony in Quetzaltenango.) 

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