Thursday, September 17, 2015

September 17 - James Carney, Martyr, Missionary, Revolutionary

James Carney struggled his way through seminary. Not because he wasn't smart--he was--and not because it was the hardest thing he'd ever done--he had recently finished serving in World War II--but because it challenged him in new ways that only Jesuit training could. He studied philosophy and theology for hours and hours doing so in Latin. He reflected back upon his time in the military and what it meant for his life. He engaged his own self-discipline as he was formed in the crucible of his seminary experience and when he emerged, he was prepared for the calling that God had placed upon his life: the life of a missionary priest to a poverty-stricken people. James Carney--who asked to be called Padre Guadalupe in honor of "Our Lady of Guadalupe"--had been called and appointed to Honduras.

James lived a fairly typical life in Honduras as a local priest among a people who struggled daily to know where they would find their next meal and how to make sure their families were cared for. He said mass every week, he baptized, he offered the sacraments, he taught children, and otherwise did what any other priest was doing throughout the world. But James felt that in pursuing his calling and moving to Honduras he had somehow missed it. Instead, he began to consider the poverty of his people and the suffering they labored under. He knew it only indirectly. After all, he was an American citizen who was provided for and comfortable even if living among those who struggled. He began to become intimately acquainted with their lives by leaving the church buildings and entering into the homes of his people. Eventually, he would become a Honduran citizen and give up his American citizenship and passport. He donned the clothes of the people and slept on dirt floors, in hammocks, and wherever he was invited. James Carney found that within his calling was a deeper calling to become intimately associated with a people that the government did not care about.

Eventually, James Carney began to argue that the Church could not stand passively by and watch the poverty-stricken suffer but should, instead, try to alleviate their pain. He began arguing for social and economic justice in Honduras and this attracted the ire of those with power--those who had benefited from the broken Honduran system. Suddenly, he was accused of being a communist and heretic by those with power and the Bishop began to hear criticism of the priest who was a friend of the poor and outcast. As often happens to those who confront power with truth, the influential and powerful people exacted their revenge for James' slight against them and had him exiled from Honduras to Nicaragua. James' citizenship in the country he loved--where the people he loved lived--was revoked and he was told not to return.

While in Nicaragua, James Carney continued his ministry among the Nicaraguans while still dreaming of his beloved in Honduras. There had recently been revolution in Nicaragua where the Sandinista forces had overthrown a government that had failed and oppressed the poor. This was an inspiring event for James who began to associate with a guerrilla force intending to try to start the same thing in Honduras. They crossed the border into Honduras and James went with them as their "priest chaplain." James knew well that he would essentially sign his own death warrant by returning to the country where he belonged but was not welcome. The force was caught, interrogated, and tortured. This included James Carney. Finally, James Carney was taken in a helicopter over the jungle and tossed out of it alive. He fell to the ground and if he survived the fall, then he died of exposure, hunger, or thirst in the days that followed.

James Carney was clearly a man who was willing to fight for what he felt was worth fighting for. This is somewhat troubling for some people who are uncomfortable with the idea of a revolutionary priest that fights for a politicized cause. James' Marxist leanings further complicate the discussion for many Christians who distrust Marxism and its political trappings. Regardless, James can and should be remembered as a person willing to die for those he loved. By living with the poor and outcast of Honduras, he became so attached and connected to their lives that their suffering was his suffering. Their pain was his pain. Their yearning for revolution and change burned in his heart, as well. Because of this and God's calling upon James' life, James Carney was martyred because he refused to stop loving those that the powerful had deemed inconsequential and unlovable.

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