SOA Vigil: Remembering Dr. Arnaldo Merida

Personal Reflection on the 2007 Vigil by CRLN Member Jeanne Foley

CRLN Member Jeanne Foley wore a photograph of Arnaldo Merida at the 2007 SOA Vigil.  Below is her reflection on Dr. Merida and her connection to him. 


I have looked upon the face of torture and embraced the agony of its survivors in the person of my adopted Guatemalan daughter, Matilde de la Sierra.  Through her I have come to know about the courageous acts of her father, Arnaldo Merida, a doctor in Guatemala who gave the best medical care to all who came to him regardless of their politics, and was "disappeared" when Matilde was only sixteen.  When Dr. Merida was taken from his home where he had his clinic, his peers in the medical community were appalled.  It was still early in the worst years of the civil war, four days after Christmas in 1981.  People were not ready to believe that Guatemala's professional community would be targeted.  



Here was a man of impeccable character, fervent Catholic, faithful husband, devoted father of two daughters and one son.  His family was away from the house that December afternoon.  They came home to reports from their neighbors that soldiers had come for him.  The first days of grief and terror were followed by several years of inquiries and searches of the morgues where lay the broken bodies of so many Guatemalans.   We have all heard these stories and can hardly imagine the special pain these families experience, the pain of never knowing what happened and never receiving the body of their loved ones back to bury with love and ritual.


Walking the solemn procession on Sunday holding Dr. Merida's cross and picture was a way to make him "Presente!", to honor him and comfort his family with a powerful kind of remembrance liturgy akin to the funeral  Mass he never had.   This story and this experience has been repeated thousands of times in so many different ways at each SOA Vigil over the years.  I had heard about it but when I actually experienced it, I was overwhelmed with the spirit of solidarity that was so palpable that Sunday afternoon.  The fence filled with crosses gave us a place to be, a place to be one with.  As I told his family afterwards, the soldiers would come and take down those crosses and probably burn them, but the ashes would rise on the wind and fall gently on the earth, making it a place of holy ground.  A witness to the transforming power of non-violence!