Crusaders for justice, human rights

Fr. Jim Carney celebrates Mass in Motagua, Honduras, in May 1968. (Eugene Skelton)

When Ambassador Robert White died in January, we all lost a great crusader for justice and human rights. The Jan. 30-Feb. 12 print issue of NCR includes a related story of the never-ending and escalating battle for those rights in Honduras, where we met White 50 years ago when he was a Foreign Service officer posted to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

My husband and I lived in Honduras from 1963 to 1973, first as Peace Corps volunteers, later as consultants with the U.S. Agency for International Development. In the mid-1960s, White, an embassy officer, was close to our age. Gene and I were in our early 40s and were assigned as Peace Corps volunteers to the Tegucigalpa office of Las Escuelas Radiofónicas, adult education by radio.

Las Escuelas was an effort by the church and private sector to reach the campesinos, the landless farmers who were victims of injustices forced on them by continuing dictatorships and oligarchy-military oppression. It was never a secret that U.S. policies supported this system in Honduras for more than a century.

White was familiar with our work and encouraged us, visiting sites and attending meetings. He also knew of the similar and cooperative efforts of the U.S. and Canadian missionary priests to improve the lives of the campesinos. At that time, Jesuit Fr. Jim Carney was one of our contacts with Las Escuelas. Maybe White and Carney knew each other; Honduras is a small country and paths cross.

We were never in a position as White was in his career to denounce the offenses he saw. He suffered by demotions and firings for his stance. We were not surprised by his reaction in 1980 to the deaths of the four American churchwomen, raped and murdered by the Salvadoran military. White said those responsible would not get away with it and many years later he was able to testify at a trial of some of them.

White opposed the Reagan administration's misguided anti-communism efforts in the 1980s. The Contra war in Nicaragua resulted in the death of our friend Carney, known as "Padre Guadalupe." He had spent 20 years working with the campesinos, became actively involved in the fight against injustice, and was killed by Honduran military.

We followed White's career through press reports and interviews in print and on TV. I am 90 years old now and truly believe that White and Padre Guadalupe were among the most committed, and most energetic people I have ever met. They spent their lives pursuing the goal of liberty and justice for all, and had the courage to fight the battle on public ground, each man in his own way.

My husband joins me with condolences to the White family and also to the Carney family. Both of these men are historic figures and should continue to be honored for defining their battle and defending their stance.

[Lorraine Moline Skelton and her husband, Eugene, live in St. Cloud, Minn.]

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