Today in the U.S. we are celebrating Valentine’s Day. It is a day to give our special someone a note of love, flowers, or a delicious box of candy. It may be overrated, but it helps the bottom line at the stores and it is always appreciated by the recipient of such thoughtfulness.
Today, I want to write about the greatest of all loves.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”
When Christ laid down His life in payment for all sins, He paid the greatest price possible. It is in His sacrifice that we know the GREATEST OF ALL LOVES.
There are those who decide to give their lives to sharing this love with others. In some cases, it costs them their own lives. We have all heard of martyrs that lived long ago and are often described as saints today. Did you know that there are modern-day martyrs who have risked everything to bring God’s love and compassion to people around the world?
The man I will write about is an American, whose story is found below:
LIFE OF BROTHER JAMES:
Brother James was born into a family of farmers near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA, on September 21, 1944. He attended grammar school and then went to Pacelli High School in the city of Stevens Point, where he met the Brothers for the first time. In September 1959 he entered the Juniorate in the state of Missouri. After three years there, he was admitted into the Postulancy program and then entered the Novitiate in August 1962, when he took the habit of the Brothers and the religious name Brother Leo William. Later, like so many other Brothers, he went back to using his baptismal name.
He was assigned to Cretin High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota for three years. There, besides teaching classes in Spanish, English, and Religion, he supervised school maintenance and he coached American-style football.
In August 1960 after making perpetual vows, he was sent to Bluefields, Nicaragua. He taught there until he was assigned to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua in 1974, where he was the Director. Under his leadership, the school population grew from 300 to 800 students. Brother Santiago also accepted the task of supervising the construction of ten new rural schools. His religious superiors ordered him to leave Nicaragua in July 1979 during the time of the Sandinista revolution. It was feared that since he worked for the Somoza government he might be at risk. For that reason, he returned to the United States and again taught at Cretin High School in the fall of 1979 and he participated in the Sangre de Cristo renewal program in the state of New Mexico in 1980.
He was sent again to mission territory, this time to Guatemala, in January 1981. He taught at the secondary school in Huehuetenango and he also worked at the Indian Center, where young indigenous Mayans from rural areas studied and trained in agriculture.
In the afternoon of February 13, 1982, he was shot several times by three hooded men and he died instantly. Attempts to identify the assassins were unsuccessful. After funeral rites in Guatemala and in Saint Paul, Minnesota, he was buried in the parish cemetery in Polonia, Wisconsin.
His character and personality:
His own writings and other declarations pertaining to him, before and after his death, show us his character and personality. Before leaving Pacelli High School to go to the Juniorate, the Brothers that knew him wrote that “he was very generous, pious, honest, docile and that he was very well-ordered and tidy; he did not smoke, he received the sacraments weekly, he got along well with his classmates; he devoted two and one-half hours per week to house chores.”
A Brother who was his Director in the Scholasticate and at Cretin High School, his first community, recalled him as “an intelligent person, although not an intellectual, jovial, easy to relate with, preferring physical work to sports, with a deep faith and love for his religious vocation, but with a certain tendency to come late to class and community prayers.”
His Call to Missions:
While he was still in Nicaragua, his old desire to work on the missions was obvious. From Nicaragua, he wrote about the satisfaction he felt while working for the very poor. Responding to the question if he felt afraid about the shootings that were taking place around him, he wrote: “Are you kidding? I never thought I could pray with such fervor when I go to bed.” In one of his last letters, before he died, he showed that he was aware of the situation in Guatemala and the possible personal consequences for him. He wrote in January 1982: “I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America. … the Church is being persecuted because of its option for the poor. Aware of numerous dangers and difficulties, we continue working with faith and hope and trusting in God’s Providence.” He went on to write: “I have been a Brother of the Christian Schools for nearly 20 years now, and commitment to my vocation grows steadily stronger in my work in Central America. I pray to God for the grace and strength to serve Him faithfully among the poor and oppressed in Guatemala. I place my life in His Providence. I place my trust in Him.” This Brother of the Christian Schools was martyred on February 13, 1982, at the age of 37, in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. This was the day before Valentine’s Day.
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A man was peeking through the corn as we walked about a mile to the place where women weaved their cloth. It frightened me at first, but then I realized that he was simply curious. We continued to walk, occasionally getting a look at the volcano in the distance. This is Guatemala. A land where many of our vegetables are grown. It is a beautiful land with a difficult political history. Our mission was to meet with the women in the remote areas who were health providers. The midwife we met was on call twenty-four hours and this often meant that she walked miles once the message came that a baby was about to be born. Often it was raining and our visit to them was a look first hand at swollen creeks and slippery mud. The Health Providers are trained by Christian churches to go into the very remote areas to teach women the basic standards of health…thus preventing disease.
One village was the home of a Christian group whose children had learned the cottage industry of sewing and embroidery after the men and older boys of the village had been murdered. This happened during a governmental, political problem in the 1980’s. Dogs drug in the bones for weeks after the raid, but these women were determined to keep their families together. Even today, these people have it very difficult. Their products must be brought for miles into Guatemala City….sometimes riding the “chicken buses” crowded to overflowing. When the U.S warned of unrest in Guatemala, the tourist trade dropped off, hurting these people desperately. Ruth and Nohemi are weavers and sewers who make tablecloths, jackets, and handbags. Many of their creations are sent back to the U.S. to be sold, thus helping their economy.
American missionaries spend time giving medical treatment at the Proyecto Salud y Paz in Quetzaltenango. We visited their dental clinic that was making do with out of date equipment, but the people lined up for hours for the care. They also ran a small pharmacy. It was amazing to see the tender love that these missionaries had for the people of Guatemala. They said, at the time, the only real need they had was a high wall to help to protect their compound.
The John Wesley School was extremely poor. The floors were dirt and the building needed great repair. However, more than one hundred children packed into this school with almost no sanitation. A number of American people have returned since this trip, bringing aid to the people of Guatemala.
The next time you eat some fruit or a vegetable that is labeled, “Grown in Guatemala”, think of these hard working, devout people who are still walking under the volcanoes and through the corn fields. They are, after all. our neighbors to the south.
BOYER WRITES by N.W. Boyer (See slide presentation below)
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