The day before we had to leave for Antigua, we listened to a talk given by a woman named Chona about the history of how the Mission founded by Fr. Greg and the Guatemalan Civil War affected the daily lives of the people of San Lucas.
She first started by describing the founding of the Mission in San Lucas. Fr. Greg knew little Spanish and was at first discouraged by the daunting task that lay ahead of him in a seemingly strange and new world, which was vastly different from his comfort zone in Minnesota. However, with God's help and perseverance, he was able to remain strong in his resolve to develop the Mission that is known today. He first noticed that many men lacked work to support their families, which sometimes included children numbering in the double digits.. Fr. Greg consequently provided work for many men at the Mission. He then resolved to build a medical clinic after witnessing a child die due to a lack thereof. The clinic was built and it still remains to save lives today. Fr. Greg then tackled the problem of illiteracy in San Lucas. Consequently, he then founded a school to fight illiteracy and promote success. All teachers and current doctors in San Lucas are former students of that school. Then the storm clouds of the Guatemalan Civil War came to cast a shadow over San Lucas.
Initially, Fr. Greg ran the Mission without much difficulty, as San Lucas was not necessarily in a period of violence. He was able to buy land for productive use from the rich people who fled the area for fear of violence. However, when the violence came to San Lucas, circumstances became desperate and tragic. Civilians were caught in the crossfire between the guerrillas and the army, which led to many innocent lives being lost. The military grew very suspicious of any activity that involved an exchange of supplies, and they saw all such activity as helping the guerrillas, especially within the indigenous population. This allowed the military to target civilians for even the smallest actions. Chona herself lost her husband when he mysteriously disappeared after assisting a fellow worker. Chona and her children had to live in fear that the military would take them away as well, as the military was very harsh to the civilians of San Lucas. 85 children found themselves orphaned in the violence in San Lucas. 3 remain to live in San Lucas. Some orphans were even targeted by the army for witnessing the murder of their families. To make matters worse, Fr. Greg began to upset the government, which forced him to make the decision to escape (with Chona's help in fact). Nevertheless, Chona and other people of faith relied on God's protection to get them through the violence. However, Chona then began to tell the story of Fr. Stan, who was the priest in charge of the Mission in Santiago. He had made enemies within the government of Guatemala for simply doing his job as a priest. He was given an opportunity to escape Guatemala and go back to his hometown in Oklahoma, but he refused. He ended up dying a martyr's death when the army searched out his church and executed him. His body went to Oklahoma for burial but his heart remained in Santiago at the Mission. Chona concluded her talk after describing the heroic story of Fr. Stan.
We all found the talk to be a profound tale of the darker and more serious side of the human experience, and it certainly is a rare experience to hear a firsthand account of such harrowing events in human history. This part of our time in San Lucas was certainly one to remember.