Letter to Friends

Father Tom Royer
Letter to Friends
June, 2006

I have just finished a report on the last three delegations. I have a strong commitment to keep telling the story of sister communities to keep us mindful of them lest they fade from our concern. Besides helping us understand the struggle of our Salvadoran friends, the delegations give us a small taste of the challenges that face the missionaries and volunteers who live and work among the poor of the world. They have to live and adjust to a different climate and living conditions in far off places. But more, some have had to confront serious dangers in their commitment to accompany the people.

I recall the stories of my friend, Bill Donnelly, a Maryknoll priest who has worked for many years in the mountains of Guatemala with the Mayan people. Bill was the only priest in a large area near the Mexican border. In order to reach the people beyond his city parish of Barillas, Bill would travel weekdays to the small villages (aldeas) in the mountains and down in the Ixcan jungle. Our experiences in El Salvador are miniscule compared to Bill’s weekly trips in areas without roads. He and his companions walked or rode on horses to reach his widely scattered parish. In addition to the hassles and discomfort of journeying over difficult terrain in all kinds of weather and sharing the simple hospitality the poor campesinos could offered him, Bill accompanied his people during the 1980s, a time of fierce oppression of the Mayan peoples by the Guatemalan military. About 400 villages were wiped out by massacres. Many escaped to live in terror hiding in the ravines of the mountains or in the jungle. Bill stayed with his suffering people through years of crisis.

Another Maryknoll priest I know well and admire is Jim Madden, a native of Champaign, who has been with the Aymara people in the high plains of Peru for about forty years. Ed Adelmann is a Carmelite priest also working in the Peruvian high country. Susan Nagele from Urbana is a doctor who has been a Maryknoll lay missioner working for many years, first in the Sudan and more recently in Kenya in Africa. Barbara O’Donohue, working with the Pokot people in rural Kenya, is another example of heroic accompaniment of the poor. I admire the compassion and generosity of these kind of folk. It happens that these five are from Illinois, the finest export from our state to the world. I must also mention Greg Schaffer, a seminary classmate who has done amazing work as a pastor in Guatemala. Also Cliff Norman in Mexico and David Sullivan who has worked in the Philippines. I am grateful that I can count these people among my friends. They have been an inspiration to me and to many others.

When I stop to consider it, life has provided me the companionship of a lot of exceptional people. My family, classmates, brother priests, parishioners, people in El Salvador at the Christian Base Community Organization (CEBES) and in the mountain settlements, and other friends like you have been a wondrous blessing. You have kept me from losing hope and running off to the circus. Finding kinship with such companions has been God’s great gift to me.