VATICAN CITY (CWNews.com) - Pope John Paul II expressed his revulsion on Tuesday at the murder of a Guatemalan bishop on Sunday, calling it "an abominable crime."

      Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedra of Guatemala City, who headed the archdiocesan human rights office, was killed in apparent retaliation for the release of a report critical of the army for human rights abuses during the country's 36-year civil war. The Holy Father said the murder is an example of the futility of violence in the central American country.

      "I express my strongest revulsion for this act of violence which is an attack on peaceful co-existence," said the Holy Father who lasted visited Guatemala in 1996. "I deeply hope that this abominable crime, which has taken the life of a true servant of peace and untiring worker for harmony among all sectors of the population, clearly shows the futility of violence."

      Meanwhile in Guatamala City and all through the country, Guatemalans on Monday mourned the murder of a human-rights crusading bishop who was killed on Sunday, just two days after releasing a report critical of the army for human rights abuses during the country's 36-year civil war.

      Flags hung at half-mast, black bows adorned doors, and people pinned black ribbons on their clothes as newspaper ran full-page advertisements from business and civil groups demanding justice for Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedra. "For the first time in our history, a bishop is assassinated, a deed that pains us and fills all Guatemalans with shame," President Alvaro Arzu said in a televised address on Monday evening.

      Although many observers quickly linked the murder to the bishop's report on human rights abuses during the civil war, prepared in his position as head of the archdiocesan human rights office, government officials and prosecutors pointed out that no conclusions had been drawn. "We do not want to enter into speculation," said president spokesman Ricardo De la Torre.

      When Bishop Gerardi was head of the Diocese of Quiche in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he saw several priests in his care killed by government-backed paramilitary groups. He also survived an assassination attempt in 1980, and was forced into exile in 1982 and 1984. A silent march and vigil for Bishop Gerardi was planned for Tuesday afternoon and a funeral Mass for Wednesday morning.

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April 29, 1998 volume 9, no. 83         DAILY CATHOLIC