Don Samuel Ruiz García

The Legacy of Don Samuel Ruiz García

The prophetic legacy of Mexican Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, a tireless defender of the rights of the indigenous people of Chiapas, was celebrated during a recent ecumenical event in Toronto that also underscored the alarming violence and injustice in Mexico today.

Don Samuel, known affectionately as “jTatic” (Mayan for “father”), died on 24 January 2011 at the age of 86. As bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas for 40 years (1960-2000), he denounced the injustices and poverty suffered by the largely Mayan communities in his diocese and was a key mediator in peace talks held in the nineties between the Mexican government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army.

The Toronto prayer service and public event, held on 29 February 2012, was organized by CJI together with Development and Peace, the Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice, KAIROS, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Loretto Sisters and the United Church of Canada. The keynote speaker, Fr Jose Aviles Arriola, Vicar for Justice and Peace of San Cristobal de Las Casas, recalled jTatic as a “persistent collaborator in building the Reign of God in the here and now.” He talked about the legacy of jTatic: his option for the poor, his firm belief that there can be no peace without social justice, and “his accompaniment of the indigenous peoples in their struggles.”

This accompaniment included the creation of a broad-based indigenous pastoral ministry with “its own liturgy, theology, and spirituality.” The other main speaker, Bishop Mark MacDonald, national indigenous bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada, also underlined this achievement: “That Ruiz was able to make the Church truly aboriginal without sacrificing its universality is most inspiring.”

Fr Jose, who was ordained by Ruiz and worked with him for many years, said: “The legacy of jTatic Samuel is completely in force in the present situation Mexico faces, when there is greater corruption, violence, poverty, and economic, political and social deterioration.” Historic causes have been “deepened by an unjust economic system in which the rich are every day richer at the expense of the poor, who are every day poorer.”

The Mexican priest said things had worsened during the current presidency, “especially because of the poorly named ‘battle against organized crime.'” When he took over in 2006, President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico’s flourishing narcotics trade. “This lamentable war has been costly,” continued Fr Jose. “At the end of 2011, more than 60,000 dead, mostly young people; 250,000 internally displaced; more than 10,000 disappeared; and between 110,000 and 120,000 orphans and widows, dependents of the victims.”

The drugs war is taking its toll on human rights. Mexico’s military and police allegedly commit widespread rights violations in their efforts to combat violent drug cartels, including killings, torture and disappearances. Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims that these violations persist and are creating an atmosphere of impunity. Those who document these abuses and cartel violence are targeted. It is widely held that one of the reasons the drug war is not achieving its goals is because Mexican police are being coerced or corrupted by the cartels.

Fr Jose ended by quoting the words of Don Samuel: “The peace that we seek cannot be separated from justice. Peace does not fit within a conservative attitude. On the contrary, Peace requires free men and women to actively and creatively struggle through non-violence for a more just and humane world. It requires all of us.”