Rodolfo Quezada Toruno: Priest who battled oppression

 

The churchmen who strove for peace amidst the tens of thousands of corpses and smoking ruins caused by what NATO and Israeli governments mendaciously called "civil wars" in Central America were all too few.

Indeed, one baleful Archbishop of Guatemala, Cardinal Mario Casariego, operated hand in glove with the oligarchy, the army and foreign troops in a shameful cataclysm in which they used bullets and bayonets to keep the impoverished majority down.

Happily, one of his modern day successors, Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, the former archbishop of Guatemala City who died in his bed last Monday, did not fit Casariego's mould. The Pope praised Quezada as "a pastor committed to the mission of evangelisation".

Born to a middle-class family in Guatemala City in 1932, Quezada was ordained as a priest in 1956 in the capital. He studied in San Salvador, Innsbruck and Rome. In 1972 he was consecrated bishop of Zacapa, eventually being named the archbishop of the capital in 2001 and cardinal two years later.

His auxiliary bishop, Juan José Gerardi, murdered in 1998, was one victim of the killings. Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, murdered in 1980 by a foreign trained marksman and whose bespectacled statue adorns the west front of Westminster Abbey, was yet another. And the six Jesuit priests of the Central American University picked off by US-trained troops in the Salvadorean capital in 1989 were certainly among the victims of the successive political bloodbaths in the Central American isthmus.

Quezada lived through times which claimed an estimated 200,000 Guatemalan lives. Most were not guerrillas but civilians from among the majority, the poorest Mayan and other aboriginal peoples, who, in the distant past before the European conquerors arrived from Spain in the 16th century, had produced a high civilisation in literature, mathematics and astronomy. More than nine out of ten of the victims in the late 20th century were found by an official investigation to have died at the hands of the police and military.

The late archbishop's priority was contained in Quezada's repeated phrase, "Justice for the poor and an end to violence in Guatemala: this sums up my whole mission". It was a standing rebuke to those who, behind Cold War structures and an overblown view of the Soviet threat in Latin America, continued to use fire and sword in defence of an indefensible status quo.

The rise of a cautious reformist government in 1945 in this deeply divided society was met by extreme hostility by the handful of families who owned and ran the country. They had the help of the US Central Intelligence Agency when reformism was abolished by a right-wing coup d'état in 1954 and a bloody counter-revolution lasting to 1996 was inaugurated.

Their leader, Carlos Arana, who was Guatemala's President from 1970 to 1974, was not bluffing when he warned the left, "If it is necessary to turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it, I will not hesitate to do so." He was as good as his word: the results of the slaughter are still to be seen in the hunger, illness and illiteracy of a large swathe of Guatemalans, the widespread practice of poor families selling their children, a tradition of nugatory taxes on the rich and continuing impunity to this day for those guilty of atrocities.

In a blood-soaked milieu, Quezada kept his intellect sharp, becoming rector of Guatemalan seminaries and professor of canon law in the country's universities. He kept the details of hundreds murdered by the military and was preparing to have 80 of them canonised and declared martyrs by the church.

Unlike many churchmen, he bound Christianity and justice together. He declared, "Only when we have more Christians, not only with religious cultural roots, but with a truly personal faith, who can discover their vocation to holiness and in their personal lives, will we have a humane and just society."

He played a major role in the UN peace process, which got under way once Washington and its Israeli allies, who sold arms and training to the Guatemalan forces, saw that the support they were giving was serving merely to undermine their already wobbly prestige in the region. From 1987 to 1993, Quezada was chairman of the National Reconciliation Commission, which sought peace among the warring forces and foreign promoters of terrorism after 36 years of strife. Under the Oslo Agreements of 1990 worked out with the UN he was appointed "conciliator in the peace process" of Guatemala. He retired in 2010.

Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, priest: born Guatemala City 8 March 1932; died Guatemala City 4 June 2012.

Suggested Topics
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker