Thursday, July 23, 2009

Forgiveness and a Spanish Priest

Father Mariano Arroyo Merino got a few words out before he died, letting his killers know where they stood.

He said "I forgive you."

That probably isn't a direct quote. I read about Father Arroyo's death in an English-language publication. Since he was a Spanish priest, in Cuba, the odds are pretty good that he said something like "te perdono." It's probably a pretty good translation, though: "I forgive you" isn't a particularly complicated sentence.

Even though it's simple to say, I'm impressed that Father Arroyo said it: particularly considering that he had just been stabbed and burned. Most people aren't in the best frame of mind when they're experiencing the sort of pain that goes along with that sort of assault.

Father Arroyo was killed at his parish of Our Lady of Regla, in Havana, on on July 13 this year. He was 74.

Leaving a Deep Impression With a Knife, and With Words

The report of Father Arroyo's last words come from an eyewitness: his killer. After he'd stabbed and burned the priest, my guess is that the suspect hadn't expected to hear words of forgiveness come out. I imagine that simple sentence, in context, made something of an impression.

What's Some Old Priest doing in Cuba?

Although two priests have been killed (ZENIT uses the term, "assassinated") in Cuba during the past year, a friend of Father Merino says that, by and large, people treat priests nicely in Cuba.
"...Father Hoyos met Father Arroyo in 1970 in Spain. At the urging of his friend, Father Hoyos left for Cuba in 2001, having reached the age of retirement in Spain, to continue with his priestly ministry on the island. 'Yes,' he explained, 'it happened that that summer (of 2000), Mariano was here (in Spain). He had already spent many years in Havana. I told him (I'd go to Cuba), it seemed a good idea to him and I went. We lived together for four years and then they assigned me to the barrio of Alamar in Havana.'

"There, he carries out his mission among a population of 100,000 people. 'It is a village that was created after Castro's revolution, but a village of 100,000 inhabitants. Actually it's a city-dormitory' and it has just one parish.

"The priest described it: 'It's a little house with a patio -- a few grains of sand among this immense multitude. On Sunday we have the (Eucharistic) celebration and some 300 people participate. That's not many, but before there was nothing.'

"Father Hoyos said being a priest in Havana is not difficult. 'People treat you very well,' he explained. 'I wasn't accustomed to the adoration that is felt there for the figure of the priest. The Cubans are very reverent with sacred things.'..."
Judging by what happened to Father Arroyo, that statement about "the Cubans" has to be taken as a generalization: But I'm inclined to believe Father Hoyos.

Father Arroyo's Death: Looks Like a Robbery Gone Bad

Cuban investigators are assuming that robbery was the motive in Father Arroyo's death, and that's plausible. The priest had a large safe. Used mostly to hold a crown for Our Lady that was very old, had great sentimental value, and wasn't worth all that much money. Money from donations, when it came in, didn't stay in the safe. It went to the bishopric.

But the suspects may not have known that.

I'm aware that knocking over a church is a bad choice because cash generally isn't kept there, and you'd have no end of trouble trying to fence the highly-identifiable objects that might be valuable - but I decided to not pursue a life of crime for strictly practical reasons, as well as ethical considerations. I've gotten the impression that people who steal aren't always the best analytic thinkers.

Forgiveness: Yes, It's Important

Forgiveness is a big part of Catholic practice and belief The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (you'll hear it called "confession") that handles God's forgiveness is an important part of Catholic life. (Catechism, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 4) I'll admit the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is not one of my favorites. I don't like medical checkups either. It's not necessary to get an emotional boost from either: but I go to confessions and checkups because they're important.

Most Christian groups think forgiveness is important. That's hardly surprising, considering the emphasis Jesus put on forgiveness, right up to that "...'Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.'... " plea from the Cross. (Luke 23:34)
'Christians are All Hypocrites: I Knew This Guy - - - '
Odds are that you've run into a person who said - perhaps quite loudly - that he or she is a Christian, and didn't display forgiveness. Christians are human, and some of us are jerks. And there's the odd group here and there that insist that they're Christian, but have, ah, interesting beliefs. Like Tony Alamo's outfit and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas.

But, the televangelist meltdown and a handful of priests a few decades back, and Tony Alamo's legal troubles today notwithstanding, Christianity as a whole says that forgiveness is important.

I won't say it's easy. For someone like me, forgiving my enemies is downright counter-intuitive. Nobody said following God's way was going to be easy. Easy or not, it is, I think, the right thing to do.

Back to Father Arroyo and His Killer

I hope that whoever killed Father Arroyo is prevented from killing other people. People who kill other people for personal gain are not, in my opinion, safe to have around.

As for Father Arroyo, it sounds like he died well: with forgiveness on his lips. Not many of us have an opportunity to go out that way.

Father Arroyo's killer isn't off to a particularly good start, but there's hope for someone in that position too.

I wrote, earlier this month, about a man who committed murder during an attempted rape. I haven't been able to confirm this, but I've heard that people are bucking for Alessandro Serenelli's beatification. I see their point. After his victim had a talk with him in prison, Alessandro started seeing things a bit differently, and eventually died in or near a Capuchin monastery. (July 6, 2009)

What was done to Father Arroyo was wrong. I've written before - most recently in the context of Dr. George Tiller's death - that my view, based on the teachings of the Catholic Church, is that murder isn't nice and you shouldn't do it.

But, it sounds like Father Arroyo had what some of my forebears would have called a happy death, and there's a chance that his killer or killers will take this opportunity to accept God's forgiveness and turn their lives around.

Stranger things have happened. There's the fellow named Saul, who did a one-eighty after having a serious talk with Jesus. (Acts 9)

People can change, and sometimes do. I suggest prayer for Father Arroyo's killers: not so much that they be punished, as that they learn to love God and others more completely.

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