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Pope wants truth about Guatemalan bishop's murder

John Paul II urged that the truth be told about crimes committed against the Catholic Church in Guatemala, particularly the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.

When he received the Guatemalan bishops on their recent ad limina visit to Rome, the Pope encouraged them to foster national reconciliation in the wake of the 36-year civil war.

The Holy Father applauded the local Church's efforts in its "search for harmonious and peaceful coexistence, based on the values of reconciliation, justice, solidarity and liberty."

"When it is necessary," John Paul II said, "do not refuse to denounce injustice and propose principles of a moral character, which will also guide action in civil life."

Most of Guatemala's 12.6 million people are Catholic, and the Church had a key role in the 1996 peace agreements which ended the war that cost 150,000 lives.

A generation earlier, in 1976, Guatemala was the object of a campaign, launched with the support of military men and politicians, such as dictator Efrain Rios Montt and President Jorge Serrano Elias, to promote conversions to Protestant denominations. U.S. groups funded the campaign.

That effort inspired a campaign against the Catholic Church, which cost the life of many catechists and Church figures. Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala City, a defender of human rights, was killed April 26, 1998.

His murder occurred just hours after the publication of a report that blamed the army for most of the human-rights abuses committed during the war. Three military men, a priest and a parish cook are on trial for the murder.

The Holy Father, who visited Guatemala in 1983 and 1996, said: "The Church in Guatemala has witnessed the spilling of blood of many of her children. In addition to the legitimate effort to reveal the truth about these execrable crimes, among which is that of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, auxiliary bishop of Guatemala, killed three years ago now, it is urgent to recall his memory as an 'example of limitless dedication to the cause of the Gospel.'"