BOSTON -- Local Catholics recently joined a group representing the parents of 43 Mexican students missing since late September to offer support in prayer, action and listening on behalf of a largely-Catholic nation gripped by drug-related violence.
The Boston stop of a group traveling the United States called Caravana 43 began with a Mass, April 19, at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in East Boston followed by a march to Central Square and a panel discussion the next day at Harvard University.
Father Francisco Anzoategui, head of Hispanic Ministry for the Boston Archdiocese, celebrated the Mass.
Caravana 43 seeks to develop international awareness of violence in Mexico as a result of conflicts between the government and drug cartels by bringing friends and family of 43 missing students to locations throughout the United States and Mexico.
A local group of activists called Stand for Democracy, a faith-based organization active in the Boston area, worked with a group of local university students called Boston for Ayotzinapa to organize the local events. The College of Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico is the school the 43 missing students attended.
Pedro Morales, of Stand for Democracy, spoke with The Pilot after the public events highlighting the visit of Caravana 43. He said the disappearances occurred in a situation that deeply impacts the Catholic Church, and highlights violence faced by Catholics closer to home than much of the violence featured recently in the media against Christians overseas.
"For us it's important that people understand and know that for Latino Catholics, for Mexican Catholics, and for Catholics overall it should be very important. We should pay attention. It's no less prevalent than what we see in other parts of the world," Morales said.
For speaking portions of the event, Rev. Burns Stanfield, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and Rev. Britta Carlsen of Our Savior's Lutheran Church joined Felipe De la Cruz Sandoval, a parent and teacher of missing students; Clemente Rodriguez Moreno, parent of a missing student; and Anayeli Guerrero de la Cruz, a sister of a missing student.
While families such as those featured at the events represent the suffering of average people as a result of the violence in Mexico, Morales said the Church itself has come under attack as a result of the work of outreach to communities on behalf of the poor and against violence.
"In this struggle in Mexico, with the violence in Mexico, the Catholic Church has in the last two years paid a heavy price," Morales said.
Actively preaching against gangs and local government alleged to collaborate in their crimes has cost clergy their lives in Mexico.
"Priests have been vocal about calling them out, and they have been assassinated," he said.
According to organizers of the events the United States has supported the Mexican government with money and military support in the war on drugs, but the reality on the ground is that the government uses this aid to suppress dissenting voices, like those of the missing students.
After the students disappeared, the phrase "Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos" or "Alive you took them, alive you must return them" became a mantra that symbolized the outrage and desperation of the family members and of the Mexican society. Organizers of the events said Mexicans have witnessed tens of thousands of forced disappearances and over 100,000 killings in Mexico since 2006.
A press release from Stand for Democracy noted the participation of other Christian denominations in the public events during the Caravana 43 visit.
"Our Savior's Lutheran Church is proud to stand in solidarity with these parents and we remain fully committed to supporting these parents in their ongoing struggle for justice in their home country," said Rev. Don Nastad of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in East Boston.
Organizers urged citizens to push for action by contacting their government leaders to pressure the Mexican government to restore the rule of law and work to resolve related cases.
Caravana 43 was to visit multiple cities nationwide, culminating in an April 28 rally at the United Nations building in New York City.
"We want the Mexican authorities to honor the demands of affected families and to take measures to ensure transparency and accountability" said Father Anzoategui.