August – International Day of the Disappeared
International Day of the Disappeared – Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo
On this anniversary of the Day of the Disappeared, I am immediately reminded of the posters plastered to streetlamps which I would often see in Buenos Aires while studying there. They would be variations of ‘If you were born between 1968 and 1982 and do not know who your parents are, contact the Madres de Plaza de Mayo’. These posters referred to the atrocities which happened in Argentina at the hands of successive military dictatorships, during which time conservative estimates suggest that 40,000 people were forcibly disappeared. Victims were sent to concentration camps such as the Navy’s headquarters in Buenos Aires and after a period of work (and torture) they would be ‘transferred’ – taken on a death flight and thrown out into the sea.
The majority of these were students, women, and academics. Moreover, some prisoners were pregnant women, who upon giving birth were forced to hand over their child to their captors. The Madres were a small group of women who initially banded together to try and find their missing children and grandchildren, gaining international fame during the 1970s for their weekly demonstration in front of the Casa Rosada (the Argentine presidential palace) despite a ban on group gatherings.
Pope Francis of course knows this history deeply and personally, having lost his close friend and mentor Esther Ballastrino to the dictatorship. Acknowledging the many thousands of people that go missing every year, when speaking recently at a webinar of The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Argentina recently held to mark the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, Pope Francis and the Argentine Bishops sought to raise awareness of the increased vulnerability of vulnerable person. Pope Francis described modern-day slavery as “a scourge that wounds the dignity of our weakest brothers and sisters.”
Today we remember in our prayers all the victims of forced disappearance. May we learn to uphold the dignity of all people. May the families of the disappeared find healing, closure and consolation. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.
2 Timothy 4: 5-8
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Greatness consists not a notoriety or worldly power.
It is not found in the earthquake or thunder, but in the gentle breeze.
It is found in unsung heroes who die in ignominious circumstances in forgotten places, apparently abandoned by the world.
It is important to remember always that this is what happened to Jesus of Nazareth on a hill in Palestine 2000 years ago.
We pray for all those who die as Jesus did. May they rest in God’s mercy and love through eternity – people of the Resurrection. Amen
(photo Lucy Gillingham, 2017)