Diaconal Minister Dr. Rebecca Wiese (WTS 2002) and guest speaker, Pastor Jose Pilar Alvarez Cabrera, who is the Senior Pastor of ILUGUA (Iglesia Luterana Guatemaltecca in Zacapa, Guatemala) recently spoke at Wartburg Seminary at a soup supper sponsored by the Seminary’s Center for Global Theologies.
Dr. Wiese who is called as an ELCA diaconal minister at Grace Lutheran Church in Davenport, IA, is a physician at Genesis Medical Center in the Quad Cities. She has traveled to Zacapa, Guataemala eight times as part of the accompaniment ministry of Presbyterians and Lutherans in Davenport with Lutherans in Guatemala.
Pastor Cabrera’s voice was clear and persistent. His commitment was translated by the persistent voice of second year M.Div student Carina Schiltz, assisted by second year M.Div student Mytch Dorvilier.
“We want peace and justice, but there is conflict in our country,” said Pr. Cabrera. He has worked for years with farmers who live in peaceful resistance to the multinational corporations who suppress local interests. The local people who lack the power of voice or money are defending their land and the mountain that is the source of water, which is life for this and future generations. He said, “Water doesn’t come from a faucet; it comes from the mountain. It comes from the rivers.” And they are being polluted. The mountain is the only source of water for 300,000 people.
The Lutheran Church in Guatemala, together with many other religious leaders have organized and taken their message to such global places such as the Organization of American States, The European Union Parliament, and Amnesty International to seek justice and protection. The powerful multinational corporations have money to pay off judges and others which in turn endangers local leaders, some of whom have been jailed. Their lives are under constant threat. A priest was offered money to have Pr. Cabrera killed. The priest replied, “I do not want the money; I want you to leave.”
The solidarity movement has become the mission of the church in the midst of conflict. The people simply want healthy, safe water for everyone. Many of the corporate projects are dangerous to the water and the land. A hydroelectric plant would benefit companies between Panama and the United States, not the people who live in the area.
The offers of money, the government (five ruling families) support of the companies, the use of the military to keep the people quiet, all take away the voices of the community. Pr. Cabrera described how the churches have united in this fight for life and thereby have gained credibility and moral authority among the people. They talk to the military, trying to tell them to support the people, not just the huge corporations. The role of the churches is very important. Pr. Cabrera, whose life has been in danger many times now has body guards. Being with him for five years, the body guards now have become part of the community and even the church.
Ninety-five percent of the people are poor. The multi-national corporations actually increase local poverty while benefitting only the five powerful top Guatemalan families. The Mayan spiritual leaders of the indigenous peoples say, “Don’t be scared pastor. The Spirit of the Mountains will protect you.”