On Dec. 5, three missionaries killed in Peru by communist terrorists – Polish Conventual Franciscans Zbigniew Strzałkowski and Michał Tomaszek and the Italian diocesan priest Alessandro Dordi – will be beatified.
The three missionaries were killed by guerrillas of the Shining Path because of their defense of Gospel values and work with the poor. The Franciscans were killed in Pariacoto on August 9, 1991, the Italian priest two weeks later on August 25 after celebrating a Mass in Vinzos, a village in the Santa River valley.
In his message sent to Agenzia Fides, the Bishop of Chimbote explained that “in the place where the beatification will be held we have placed this expression: ‘Martyrs of faith and charity, witnesses of hope.’ Martyrs of faith, because this was what gave them the strength to face imminent death. Martyrs of charity, because their whole lives were devoted to rural communities, with people living in poverty and marginalization. For these reasons, they become not only for our diocese, but for the entire Church of Peru, witnesses of hope.”
Given the large number of faithful expected, the beatification will take place in the Stadium of Chimbote, the diocese where the three martyrs worked.
Although the Shining Path made Peru a dangerous country, many European priests chose to become missionaries there. They included Strzałkowski (1958-1991) and Tomaszek (1960-1991), who entered seminary shortly after their countryman St. John Paul II was elected pope.
“Our entire generation was deeply influenced by this pope and his teachings,” recalled Father Zbigniew Swierczek, a Franciscan in Krakow, Poland, who was friends with the Polish priests in seminary. “They came from families where faith was treated seriously, and so they were radical witnesses of Christ.”
Paradoxically, both the missionaries and terrorists had a common goal: to empower the poor. However, the missionaries saw Christian love as the solution to inequality,while the atheist terrorists chose hatred and terror. After the 1991 martyrdoms, the Shining Path failed to attract recruits in the Chimbote Diocese. In the 1990s, the Peruvian government intensified its crackdown on the organization, and many of the Shining Path’s leaders were jailed.
The Chimbote martyrs show that for true social justice to be achieved, it can only be based on Christian love, not on reducing the person to economic categories.