By Barb Arland-Fye
Deacon Dave Reha and his wife Donna are friends of the Guatemalan bishop who’s receiving the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award Oct. 2. They’ve even taken him to a water park with their family and watched him enjoy inner tubing there.
While Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini of the San Marcos Diocese in Guatemala enjoys a respite, his commitment to social justice and empowering the poor and marginalized leaves the Reha family of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City awestruck.
They became acquainted with Bishop Ramazzini through their daughter, Sister Anna Marie Reha, SSND, who served nearly a decade until 2002 in San Marcos Diocese and got to know the bishop well. In June, he called Sr. Reha, 50, who serves as director of Hispanic/Latino Ministry in the Diocese of New Ulm, Minn., to wish her happy birthday.
Bishop Ramazzini mentioned he was receiving the Pacem in Terris Award and asked, “How far do your mom and dad live from Davenport?” Not far at all, she responded, while thinking about how she’d rearrange her schedule to be at the ceremony in the Rogalski Center on St. Ambrose University campus in Davenport.
“I’m thrilled people recognize the work he does. He’s very humble. I’m sure he would not look at his work as doing anything more than being the pastor to his people,” she said during a telephone interview Sept. 19. “That’s one of the things I truly admire about him: he knows his flock; he knows his people and takes time for them.”
Bishop Ramazzini has received international attention for his fight against multinationals razing the Guatemalan countryside in pursuit of mineral wealth. He demonstrates civil courage, empowering the poor and marginalized against seemingly insurmountable social structures, says Kent Ferris, who leads the interfaith Pacem in Terris Award committee and is the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action director.
Sr. Reha witnessed Bishop Ramazzini’s advocacy efforts and his people skills firsthand in her ministry as pastoral administrator in one of his parishes. “Bishop Ramazzini is very pastoral and so you’d often find him at the parishes within the diocese. He knew catechists by name.” Besides his pastoral qualities, he’s a man of great principle, focused on peace and justice, but also has a sense of humor. “He’s just a delightful person,” she said.
The people he serves live in extreme poverty in an area rich with natural beauty. In its highlands, and coastal areas farmers eke out an existence on small plots of land. Bishop Ramazzini “spoke very strongly for land rights for the small farmers and continues to do that today,” she noted.
He and other bishops also have been involved in the Recovery of Historical Memory Project, a truth and reconciliation effort which includes collecting testimonies from victims of state violence during the 36-year civil war. Sr. Reha was in Guatemala when Bishop Juan Gerardi from the Archdiocese of Guatemala was killed. It was common to have marches for social justice then. “Bishop Ramazzini was always at the front of those marches, which is why over the years his life has been threatened. He’s been very public and vocal in regards to the most vulnerable and the poor.”
More recently he’s been raising concerns about the environmental risks that silver mines pose in the diocese. Bishop Ramazzini continues to advocate for land rights and speaks out against drug trafficking, which has become a large issue, along with immigration.
The struggles his people continually face cause the bishop sadness, but “he continues to step up to the plate to speak up for the rights of those most in need,” she said. He lives a balanced life, which re-energizes him. “He takes time for family and friends and has a good sense of humor. I don’t know what you do without a good sense of humor.”
Three years ago, Bishop Ramazzini traveled to Minnesota to preside at a Mass celebrating Sr. Reha’s 25th anniversary as a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
She returned “home” to Guatemala in April 2010 for the ordination of a priest who was a member of her parish there. That was the last time she saw Bishop Ramazzini. She’ll return to Iowa where she and her parents will spend some quality time with the bishop during his visit there.
“He’s a wonderful man,” Donna Reha said. “He’s for his people … he really cares about them,” Deacon Reha said. “I’m just in awe of the man.”
Pacem in Terris Award ceremony is Oct. 2 at SAU
Bishop Martin Amos will present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini, bishop of San Marcos, Guatemala, during a public ceremony Oct. 2 in Davenport.
The free event begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Rogalski Center Ball Room, 518 W. Locust St., on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
Previous award recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa, Msgr. Marvin Mottet and Father John Dear, SJ. The award commemorates Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris, which means peace on earth.
Award co-sponsors: Diocese of Davenport; St. Ambrose University; Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.; Churches United of the Quad City Area; Pax Christi; The Catholic Messenger; Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport; Sisters of St. Benedict, Rock Island, Ill.; Sisters of St. Francis, Dubuque; Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton; Muslim Community of the Quad Cities; Temple Emanuel, Davenport.