The Foxes Have Lairs
In Guatemala poverty and homelessness are the direct results of concentration of land in a few hands; 65% of the land belongs to a small minority who are growing richer all the time because of this situation. Three out of four Guatemalans are very poor and live in very ineadequate housing, with the direct result that infant mortality is 170 for every 1000. There is no sharing, not even a little, by those few who own thousands of acres -some properties extending from the volcanos to the sea --with the majority who spend sleepless nights in vercrowed shacks worrying about how to earn a few centavos the next day for their families.
FATHER ROMEO G. NIMEZ, CICM, from the Philippines, who writes this article, has been a missionary in Guatemala for five years. While working in the parish of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa in the department of Escuintla along the Pacific Ocean, Father Nimez is also the CICM Vocation Director in Guatemala.
The feast of the Candelaria (Candle mass or the presentation of the Lord) on Feb. 2, 1986 was the liturgy I celebrated with Colonos of the hacienda San Gregorio in our parish. Colonos are the resident workers of the hacienda who enjoy a few privileges and benefits from the owner. With their families they lived in the houses provided by the hacienda. There is a school and also a chapel where the farmers gathered together regularly for celebration of the word. There are catechist who is responsible for the Christian growth of the community. At least once a month the Eucharist is celebrated with these Colonos. In contrast, the jornaleros are seasonal migrant workers who come from all over to plant and to cut the sugar cane and who lived outside the hacienda.
San Gregorio hacienda is a sugar cane plantation where whose Colonos have lived and work together for generations, and which today is changing over to cattle rising. Just before Mass, Maximo, our catechist in San Gregorio, approached me with the tear- filled eyes asked me: “Father Romy, during Mass please for us and our families. Tomorrow we are leaving this land where we were born, this land which we were cherished very much for it has given us life and pleasant memories. The owner of the land has told us that he does not need us anymore and we have no place to go.” At once Jesus’ word came to mind: ”The foxes have Lairs, the bird of the sky have nests, but the son of Man has no where to lay his head.” (Mt. 8:20)
Today the hacienda is a deserted place; the houses of the Colonos are abandoned and the people having the hard time finding the place to lay their heads. Their dreams and for their children are shattered. Uprooted from the land of their birth, from the familiar sound and scenery, from everything they could call their “own”, these hundred of Colonos were forced to seek temporary shelter with friends and relatives.
The fate of Maximo and the colonist of San Gregorio is the same of that of the hundred Colonos in many sugar plantation within the parish of Santa Lucia who were ejected from the land because they were no longer needed, as the owner turn their land over to the more over profitable cattle raising business which does not need so many worker.
There were serious attempts on the part of these ejected farmers to occupy vacant plantation and government lands. Very few have succeeded; the great majority had to abandon their desperate attempts because the military intervention and of fear of losing their lives. So most of them are flocked together into the town of Santa Lucia hoping to rebuild their future. Groups of three or four families pooled their meager together to rent a piece of land where they could build a small house they huddle together.
The horrible living conditions in these houses are appalling. These one-room houses are made of flimsy wood, bamboo and cardboard. When it rains everything gets wet inside. These poor living conditions plus the scarcity of job opportunities often drives the heads of this family to frustration. Some resort to robbery. Statistics indicate that violence has gone down in Guatemala the last few months but still is not safe to walk around at night.
Drunkenness has also risen in Santa Lucia as many resort to liquor to forget their problems at home. After some drinking spree some just lie down to the street to sleep it off. Often beggars and drunk alike seek the church ground for safety. The church open its doors to these unfortunates, abandoned and condemned by most. Despite the negative reaction of some “good Catholics” we must proclaim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for all.
And, therefore, in spite of this seemingly hopeless the voice of the apostle resounds with hope: “ I saw new heaven and new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away… God will dwell among His people …He shall wipe every tear in their eyes, and their shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”(Rv. 21:1-4)
Yes, I like to believe that that God is faithful to His promises and that some day the Guatemalans will repossess enough of the land of their ancestors to be able to lay down their heads in the serenity and with joy.