On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on December 10th, Sheny Berger Fernández, TA member in Guatemala, received the Order Monsignor Juan Gerardi Conedera, granted by the Office of Human Rights of the Archbishop of Guatemala (ODHAG) to individuals and institutions that have stood out during the year in promoting and defending what the United Nations, seven decades ago, considered it as a universal heritage. In Shenny`s case the recognition is granted for the dedication of her life in the defense of human rights.
Along with her, three other institutions have received the Order:
- La Casa del Migrante (The House of the migrant) for the defense of the human rights of migrants, which turned 25 years old and which, in recent months, has been, in a special way, a shelter for the caravan of Central American migrants going to the United States.
- UDEFEGUA for its protection of human rights defenders, in a year in which twenty-four people defending those rights have been murdered in the country.
- Antigua Association to the rescue, for its humanitarian and social work in defense of life, after the catastrophe of the Volcán de Fuego occurred on June 3rd.
Ecclesial commitment for justice
The award ceremony began with the words of the Executive Director of the ODHAG and the archbishop’s delegate. Both evoked the person Gerardi, the martyr bishop killed for defending the truth, whose legacy lives on in the people who, following on his footsteps, are working to build a different Guatemala. The Order, which bears his name and is symbolized by a medal with his effigy, is a tribute to them.
When Sheny's portrait was read, we were moved to hear in a well-attended public act that: "Her profound sense of belonging to the Church, her love for Guatemala, and her commitment to justice from the preferential option for the poor, was expressed in very different ways: she committed herself thoroughly in the beginnings of the Youth Promotion in Guatemala Encounters (...) Since 1978 she belongs to the Teresian Association of Poveda, where she found the way to live her vocation and ecclesial and social commitment thereafter (...) From 1986 to 1998 she coordinated, with a professor from Petén, the Legal Assistance Office of the Vicariate of Petén, helping peasants with the legalization of their land plots, in the resolution of conflicts derived mainly from the land tenure and in the Project of Formation of Legal Promoters in the Apostolic Vicariate of Petén. She belongs to the Monseñor Gerardi Movement since its foundation (...) She is part of the Delegation of the InteRed Foundation in Guatemala, an NGO promoted by the Teresian Association, which works for the right to education (...)".
Message of hope in difficult times
Then, those who received the Order went on to express what was in their hearts and convictions. Sheny started by expressing her gratitude for this recognition and what this gift meant to her since she heard it on the news -an occasion "to bring to my mind and my heart those people, institutions and realities that God has placed in my path and that have influenced and accompanied the course of my life; those convictions, desires and aspirations that have inspired, have impelled and illuminated activities, decisions, commitments, which I consider unavoidable for a person who tries to live her life responsibly according to the gospel values." She continued evoking that the country is going through difficult times, where its people’s outcry "for a Guatemala where the rights of all persons are respected, starting with the right to a dignified and quality life, a Guatemala where corruption and impunity come to an end. Lies, selfishness, exclusion, inequalities, injustices that have created a Guatemala in which poverty is increasing every day are still present in a country where so many people are forced to leave their land looking for better and more human living conditions for them and their families... Times in which we are called to live the hope, to work tirelessly, to inspire the youth..."
She evoked Monsignor Gerardi with words from the Movement's statement on the 20th anniversary of his martyrdom: "Neither Jesus nor Gerardi despaired at the time of their crisis. They kept the hope in the coming of the Kingdom of God, that is, a society transformed according to the will of God: a society built on truth and on the rights and dignity of all, in equality, in peace. Those who instead of the Kingdom of God claim to keep their own kingdom built on corruption, theft and inequality, when facing the total surrender of the prophets choose to kill them. But the Kingdom of truth cannot be killed: it rises together with the people who announced it. The martyrs are the witnesses of such a Kingdom".
Young people, seeds of the Kingdom
Sheny ended her intervention with the verses of a poem that she dedicates and invites us to hear them as an invitation from God "to so many young people who are demonstrating with their lives and their actions that, in spite of so many reasons for despair, Guatemala is no longer the same as four years ago: You are the seeds of the Kingdom (...) I love you and that is why I send you into the world (...) Do not be afraid (...) Drink from the poor, soak up in my dew. Be fruitful, burst, do not stay buried. Bloom and bear fruit."
The atmosphere of the room was that of joy, affection and welcome towards those who received the award. Many people came to greet Sheny. The media also wanted to echo the event. Members of the Teresian Association, friends and members of the Monsignor Gerardi Movement, accompanied her and thanked her for this distinction for a life dedicated to the service of the Kingdom, which challenges and encourages us to continue contributing our words and actions to the construction of a more fair and equitable Guatemala where those who are in the peripheries of society and history are not being robbed of their legitimate opportunities of a dignified life.
Text and photos: Institución Teresiana en Guatemala.
Translation: C. Zabalegui and R.Cameron.