By Barb Arland-Fye
A Guatemalan bishop who models civil courage and empowers the poor and marginalized in pursuit of social justice will be honored this fall with the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.
Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, bishop of San Marcos, Guatemala, will receive the award Oct. 2 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport from Bishop Martin Amos of the Davenport Diocese.
Previous award recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa, Msgr. Marvin Mottet and Father John Dear, SJ. The award commemorates Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris, which means peace on earth.
“What caught the attention of the interfaith award committee was the international recognition Bishop Ramazzini has received for his fight against multinationals razing the Guatemalan countryside in pursuit of mineral wealth,” said Kent Ferris, director of the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Department. “But equally important, the bishop is known for fostering civil courage, empowering the poor and marginalized against seemingly insurmountable social structures.”
In a telephone call from Guatemala, Bishop Ramazzini, 64, said the award “is not for me; it’s for my people and the people fighting for social justice.” The award presentation in Davenport provides an opportunity for people in the U.S. “to listen to the voices of the people of Guatemala.”
This won’t be the bishop’s first visit to the United States. He speaks out at home and abroad on issues ranging from human rights and fair trade to migration and governance. In testimony before a U.S. congressional sub-committee on the Western Hemisphere in April 2005, Bishop Ramazzini addressed concerns about international trade and the adverse impact of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
Such trade policies result in unfair market conditions that compel people to leave their homeland for a better life in America, he testified. He described undocumented immigrants as “entrepreneurs without assets, pursuing the American dream. They are not free-loaders. They work hard, often in several jobs, supporting a way of life that many have come to take for granted.”
Long-term solutions to problems will occur “when we begin to place the dignity of the human person, especially the poor, at the center of our discussion,” he testified.
During a general conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007, Bishop Ramazzini observed: “Central America is the victim of a form of globalization in which the distance between rich and poor grow the fruit of idolatry of pleasure and of money.”
In his telephone interview with The Catholic Messenger last week, he said it is most difficult for the American people to understand Christian commitment which transforms social and economic situations. It’s a great challenge for them because they are used to a very good way of life, he said. While he’s not hopeful that upcoming elections this fall in Guatemala will improve conditions for the majority of people in his diocese, he is encouraged by the people’s growing awareness of their rights through the efforts of the Catholic Church.
Sometimes Bishop Ramazzini feels fear because of death threats he has received for speaking out against environmental degradation and exploitation of vulnerable communities, but “I believe my life is in God’s hands; I believe strongly in providence. I am thankful to be doing the things I’m doing.” The Gospel is his inspiration. “Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid, I am with you.’”
Loxi Hopkins, a volunteer in the Davenport Diocese’s social action department, met Bishop Ramazzini during a trip to Guatemala with Catholic Relief Services a decade ago.
“I was impressed that he was so in touch with the plight of the poorest of his people and fought for justice to the point of death threats against himself. He made such an impression on me that I have never forgotten his fight for peace and justice. He seemed a natural for the Pacem in Terris Award. I am excited for others to meet and talk with this great man.”
Bio of Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri
Ministry: Bishop of the Diocese of San Marcos, Guatemala
Ordained a priest: June 27, 1971
Appointed bishop of San Marcos: Dec. 15, 1988
Ordained bishop of San Marcos: Jan. 6, 1989
Played an important role in both the 1996 peace agreements that ended 36-year armed conflict in Guatemala and the “Recovery of the Historical Memory” project, which faulted government agents for many human rights abuses that occurred during conflict
Received the Konrad Lorenz Award: 2005 for concern for earth’s resources, the fight against poverty and protection of the environment and nature
Testified before U.S. House International Relations Committee Sub-committee on the Western Hemisphere: April 13, 2005
Named president of Guatemala Episcopal Conference: Feb. 1, 2006
Speaker, Fifth General Conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean: 2007
Received death threats because of his defense of the poor and indigenous of Guatemala and received official letters of support from Rome and U.S. bishops: 2008
Asked President Alvarao Colom to close a gold mine in keeping with a decree issued by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights: 2010
Chosen for Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award: 2011
If you go
What: Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award ceremony
When: Oct. 2, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Rogalski Center Ball Room, St. Ambrose University campus, 518 W. Locust St., Davenport
Honoree: Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, bishop of San Marcos, Guatemala
Admission: Free and open to the public
Award co-sponsors: Diocese of Davenport; St. Ambrose University; Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; Churches United of the Quad City Area; Pax Christi; The Catholic Messenger; Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport; Sisters of St. Benedict, Rock Island, Ill.; Sisters of St. Francis, Dubuque; Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton; Muslim Community of the Quad Cities; Temple Emanuel, Davenport.