by Catholic News Service
CHIMBOTE, Peru (CNS) — Three Catholic missionary priests have been beatified as martyrs in Peru, 24 years after their murder by Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.
“During the period of revolutionary terror, the ideology of death led to attacks on the church and its priests, to burning, desecrating and killing,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints’ Causes, who preached at the Dec. 5 beatification Mass. Beatification is a step toward sainthood.
The cardinal said love “conquers hatred and revenge, forgives killers, fosters reconciliation and brings people to God, which is the true shining path.”
Cardinal Amato said Polish Conventual Franciscan Fathers Zbigniew Strzalkowski and Michal Tomaszek and Italian Father Alessandro Dordi had “taught a lesson of love” through their work as pastors and development workers, by “defending the lowest and neediest in the name of good against evil.”
He added that they had ministered to rural settlements at a time when now-retired Bishop Luis Bambaren Gastelumendi of Chimbote had initiated an “intensive campaign of prayer and evangelization” to counter Shining Path’s “diabolical attacks,” and to show that religious faith, “far from anesthetizing people, as the leftists claimed,” promoted “justice and social accord.”
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and bishops from Poland and Italy were among those in attendance at the stadium Mass.
Father Strzalkowski, from Tarnow, Poland, trained as a mechanic before joining the Franciscans and taking final vows in 1984. He left for Peru in November 1988, two years after his ordination.
Father Tomaszek, from Lekawica, Poland, took final vows in 1985 while studying in Krakow and was ordained in 1987 before being sent to the Polish Franciscans’ new Peru mission in July 1989.
Both priests were abducted Aug. 9, 1991, during a Mass at their mission in Pariacoto, in the Andes Mountains, and stabbed and shot for “impeding the armed struggle” and being “lackies of imperialism.”
Father Dordi, 60, from Gromo San Marino in Italy’s northern Bergamo Diocese, had worked since 1980 as a member of the Paradiso missionary community and was shot Aug. 25, near Vinzos, when guerrillas stopped a pickup truck taking him to Mass with two seminarians.
The Chimbote Diocese launched a canonization process in 1996.
In his homily, Cardinal Amato said the priests had been “loved and respected” for caring for the sick, as well as helping cultivate crops and build roads.
He added they had had “no enemies” and had left “a message of fidelity to the Christian missionary vocation,” thanks to their “serene ability not to abandon God’s plan, despite the real danger of death.”
Shining Path, a militant wing of Peru’s Communist Party, launched an armed struggle in 1980 to achieve a proletarian dictatorship, but was criticized by other communist groups for its brutality against peasants, trade unionists and local officials.
Up to 70,000 people were killed by insurgent and government forces during two decades of fighting in Peru’s Ayacucho, Apurimac and Huancavelica regions, according to a 2003 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
The beatification Mass was broadcast live by Poland’s state TV and accompanied by thanksgiving services in Krakow and Bergamo.