Faithful to the legacy of the first missionaries martyred in the Boxer rebellion and elsewhere, many have died in the service of their missions; the CICM now includes 40 martyrs since its founding.
THE CICM MARTYRS IN CHINA
The Church in China suffered violent persecutions during the 20th century. Several confreres died martyrs. Others were killed by robbers or died in prison during political revolutions. Here are their names and their pictures.
Nine CICM confreres were killed during the Boxer Rebellion (1900)
Bishop Ferdinand Hamer (Nijmegen), was burnt alive on 24 July 1900 after three days of horrible torture
Father Jozef Segers (Sint-Niklaas) was buried alive on 24 July 1900
Father Amand Heirman (Berlare) and Father Jan Mallet (Helchtel) were both tortured to death on 13 August 1900.
Father Désiré Abbeloos (Opwijk), Father Jozef Dobbe (’s Hertogenbosch) and Father André Zijlmans (Waalwijk) were burnt alive in their church on 22 August 1900; together with many Christians.Father Remi Van Merhaeghe (Waregem) was assassinated on 13 December 1901. Attacked at the same time as Van Merhaeghe, Father Henri Bongaerts (Tongerlo-Bree) died on 23 December 1901, as a result of his injuries.
- Four confreres were killed by robbers
During the 1920s gangs of robbers made life difficult for the missionaries. Some of them were taken hostage, four have been killed: Father Achiel Soenen (Poelkapelle) on 26 December 1923 Father Kamiel Ruyffelaert (Eine) on 12 August 1926.
Father Frans Lauwers (Antwerp) on 20 August 1926. Father Leo Van den Bossche (Opbrakel) on 10 September 1927.
One confrere has been killed during the Japanese occupation in China
Father Jozef Dangreau (Ostend) was shot dead by Japanese soldiers on 15 January 1939, during the Sino-Japanese war, while he was acting as a mediator for the Christians.
- Nine confreres were killed under the communist regime
Many CICM fathers were exiled (some 250) by the communist regime. Nine confreres were killed or died in captivity: Father Jozef Feeraert (Anderlecht) was shot dead by the Red Guards and dead in prison on 25 June 1947 Father Constant Dom (Broechem) died in prison on 16 September 1947- Father Oscar Conard (Marchienne-au- Pont) suffered under Boxer Rebellion (1900) and died as prisoner of the communists on 31 December 1947.
Father Oscar Tchang, a Chinese confrere, was tortured to death in prison on 8 January 1948. Father Piet van Esser (Hunsel) died on 14 February1948 after having endured inhuman sufferings. Father Kamiel Vandekerckhove (Ingelmunster) died in house arrest in Chengde on 7 June 1949.
Father Jozef Verhaert (Vorselaar) died on 31 July 1949 after two years of captivity. Father Jozef Vos (Herk-de-Stad) died on 15 October 1951 while he was in house arrest. Bishop Leo De Smedt (Sint- Niklaas) died in prison in Kalgan on 24 November on 24 November 1951-
THE MARTYRS CICM IN GUATEMALA
FATHER CONRADO DE LA CRUZ
Father Conrado was born in Baguio’s city, Republic of The Philippines on July 27, 1946. He entered to the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1965. He took his first vows on June 29, 1966 and was ordained a priest on December 28, 1971. On August 15, 1972 he received his missionary assignment, and on December 13 of the same year came to Guatemala.
Ever since his arrival he shared with the people their oppression, their sorrows and hopes. He worked in the parishes of San Cristobal, Diocese of the Verapaces and of the Port San José, Prelature of Escuintla.
In February, 1979 he was named parish priest of Tiquisate where he was especially dedicated to the ministry with poor and humble people of the farms and villages.
or preaching truth and justice he was kidnapped on May 1, 1980 at the corner of 8th Avenue and the 6th Street of the zone 1, Guatemala City (a few steps from the National Palace and of the Archdiocesan curia). According to witnesses present at the place and time of the abduction, the abductors were six men dressed in civilian clothes and armed. They abducted him together with his collaborator and friend, Herlindo Cifuentes, in a jeep Toyota, gray color since that date nobody to know anything of them.
FATHER WALTER VOORDECKERS
Father Walter Voordeckers was born in Turnhout, Belgium, on September 2, 1939. He took his first vows, in the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on September 8, 1960. He was ordained a priest on August 1, 1965. On August 30, 1966 he came to Guatemala his mission country. He worked in Nueva Santa Rosa, Escuintla and Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa.
For his commitment to the poor he was killed in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa on May 12, 1980, at 09:30 in the morning.
On May 11, 1980 Father Voordeckers commented: “I am afraid, because already I received threats, they want to kill me and they are going to kill, but if they want to seize me or if they want to drag me, I am going to run, I do not want to be abducted, I prefer receiving a shot and not being kidnapped “.
On Monday, 12 of May, 1980 four individuals strongly armed had camped, from seven o’clock in the morning, opposite to the parish and the headquarters of the police national in the municipality of Saint Lucia Cotzumalguapa, Department of Escuintla. Walter was writing a letter. At 9:30 in the morning he left to deposit it to the post office, a few steps from the parish house. The four individuals tried to kidnap him and, on having failed in the attempt, shot him; Walter received seven impacts of bullet caliber 45, and immediately the attackers got onto a jeep Toyota Land Cruiser, of beige color, with plates covered, and fled.
Walter was mortally wounded. The ambulance arrived a few minutes later; there was still a reaction of Walter on giving oxygen to him. However, he could not be saved. Seven bullets had reached him. At 9:30 a.m. the assault took place and at 9:45 already it had entered his resurrection, his liberation, the House of the Father.
BROTHER SERGIO BERTEN
Brother Serge Berten was born in Menen, Belgium, on July 13, 1952. He took his first vows on September 12, 1971. He studied social work at the IPSOC University of Kortrijk. On March 25, 1975, he left for Guatemala, his mission country. On September 15, 1980 he pronounced his perpetual vows.
He was appointed to the South coast of Guatemala. His concrete mission consisted in: the formation of local leaders to promote socio-economic development; the coordination of existing communities and the formation of new base ecclesial communities. He worked in Puerto San José, Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Tiquisate and Nueva Concepción.
With the help of a work group, a catechism entitled “Seeking the road together” was published. In this catechism, the Bible was interpreted against the background of socio-economic conditions of the settlers of the South coast. Sergio also contributed to the creation of the Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC).
At the end of 1981, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) proposed to form base groups in the South coast. This is where Sergio came in.
At that very time, CICM-Rome made an urgent call to Sergio to complete his theological formation in Mexico. Sergio did not see the usefulness of studying theology at that particular time. The superiors knowing that Sergio had joined the guerrilla movement wanted to move him out of the country for some time. They finally came to a provisional solution, namely “a year of absence” (Leave of absence). Sergio thought that, in the course of the year the revolutionary victory would be reached. To leave the country at that time would be a betrayal to the people.
On January 19, 1982 at 10:00 a.m. Sergio was abducted in a side street of the Calzada San Juan, in Guatemala City. Oscar Garcia, father of three children, – and Salvador -a pseudonym of a trade unionist of Escuintla- , were abducted with him. The abductors were armed men driving two cars with polarized windows.
Suddenly both cars stopped and returned full speed to the place where Sergio and his two companions walked. Ten armed men got out of the two cars and violently pushed Sergio and his two companions, with hands up, onto the two vehicles. This is the way they disappeared. Since that time, nothing has been heard of the three hostages.
FATHER ALFONS STESSEL
Father Alfons was born in Wilsele, Belgium, on January 13, 1929. He did his first vows in Scheut on September 8, 1949. He was ordained priest on September 12, 1954.He left for his mission country Zaire on November 16, 1955.
The first years he worked in Luambo (Diocese of Kananga) as an itinerant missionary and Chaplain of the JAC (Catholic agricultural youth).
In 1960 he worked in Kananga as chaplain of the JOC (Catholic Worker youth).
In 1971, he worked in Bilomba (Diocese of Luebo) as parish priest, which prompted the CEBs.
In 1973 he studied Community development at the IRFED Paris, and Social development in the Institute Lumen Vitae of Brussels.
On his return, in 1974, he was appointed in Tshikapa (Diocese of Luebo), as pastor of Saint Laurent, position that he held until his departure from the country in 1985.
On May 1, 1986 he arrived to Guatemala. On July 21, 1986, he was named member of the team of the parish of El Calvario (Diocese of Coban). In 1989 he was appointed parish priest of Tierra Nueva (Archdiocese of Guatemala).
The Provincial Government had accepted that from January 1, 1995, father Alfonso would retire and would live on the shores of Lake Amatitlan, where he would rent a house to dedicate himself to the contemplation and research of the Mayan culture.
But on December 19, 1994 at about 9:15 p.m. at less than 100 meters of the parish house, when he was returning from a posada, he was murdered by an unknown person opposite of the official close to the mixed morning day School located in the block 13 and 17 of the Colony Tierra Nueva known as “The Escuelona”.
Eyewitnesses were able to identify three men and a woman who walked behind him and later surrounded him. Then a shot was heard. All of them were members of the gang, directed by “Commander Ivan”, which operated in collusion with the Cobra gang.
On May 13, 1995 Adam Ávila and Byron Arturo Sologaistoa Palacios, 20-year-old (Belonging to the gang of Commander Ivan) and Ingrid Jeannette Castillo Vega, 19-year-old, cohabitant of Raul de Jesus Ramirez Menjivar, main suspect in the case, and Adam Ávila Palma, (Commander Ivan), 24-year-old, Honduran, were arrested
Raul of Jesus Ramirez Menjivar became in the main suspected, because the investigation s managed to determine that he had sold the tape recorder that was taking from Father Stessel the day of his murder.
On November 13, 1996 the former Salvadoran guerrilla Raul of Jesus Ramirez Menjivar, pseudonym “El Guanaco” was captured. He confessed to the crime on behalf of a lady called Dora, since Father Stessel owed 3 thousand Quetzals for the construction of several wells in some houses of the parish.
On March 20, 1997 all the arrested were left at liberty for lack of evidence, except Raul de Jesus Ramirez Menjivar and Ingrid Jeannette Castillo Vega.
On October 5, 1998 Raul of Jesus Ramirez Menjivar was declared guilty of the crime of homicide, and not of murder, and he was sentenced to 20 years, when the call was for 30 years in prison. Ingrid Jeannette Castillo Vega pleaded le guilty to the crime of cover-up and sentenced to 3 years, but she recovered her freedom immediately having paid her penalty in advance.
Adam Ávila Palma nicknamed “The Commander Ivan”, who was left at liberty, was later on arrested as suspect of the murder of Monsignor Gerardi.