Fr John Medcalf, who is travelling in the Caribbean, looks at the preparations for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World in the first of two articles from the Dominican Republic
HIS last presidential act was to order the arrest of all the country's bishops. He was then driven along the coastal road to meet his teenage lover, but the limousine was ambushed under a palm tree and he was gunned down a few days before his 70th birthday and 30 years after the American ambassador and a Caribbean hurricane had swept him into power.
Generalissimo Rafael Leonidas Trujillo is the stuff that late-night movies are made of. His country, the Dominican Republic, is the sort of place that journalists like to describe as a nightmare republic, I am here on a working holiday and the palm tree where Trujillo was killed in 1961 is just a few kilometres round the corner from the house where I am staying, the centre house of the Scarboro Fathers of Canada.
This is the land that Christopher Columbus loved best and where he wished to be buried. Nobody is absolutely certain whether his bones are here or with one of the other rival city claimants, Seville and Havana. However, this uncertainty has not deterred the civic authorities of Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic, from preparing the most expensive mausoleum in the western hemisphere for the man who "cross'd the ocean blue" in 1492 and claimed the New World for their Catholic majesties of Castille and Aragon without ever thinking to ask the native inhabitants whether they objected.
1992 will therefore be a year of triumphant celebration only for the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors; for the millions of mulattos, blacks, mestizos, "Indians" and poor whites of this continent it will be a year of silence or of protest, representing 500 years of ignominy.
Like other Latin Americans, the Dominican people treasure the memory of those who defended the poor and the powerless. The Scarboro fathers celebrate this year the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of one of the priests, Fr Arthur MacKinnon, who was killed (like Jesus) at the age of 33.
After Trujillo's assassination there had been elections which were won by Juan Bosch, a moderate left-of-centre candidate well-known in Spanish-speaking countries for his short stories and his novels. The Americans distributed his politics however, and in May 1965 22,000 US marines were sent "to save the country from communism".
There was fierce fighting for several months until Bosch was toppled; his supporters were arrested and tortured in great numbers. In the parish of Monte Plata 37 Bosch supporters were taken from their homes on June 16. Padre Arturo MacKinno cancelled the traditional Corpus Christi procession as a sign of protest. During the homily of the festive mass he denounced the action of the police and spoke on behalf of the families of the political prisoners.
Later that day he accompanied the wives to the jail in Santo Domingo where their mm had been imprisoned. The US marines were now in control of the capital city and there was panic in the poorer barrios where Juan Bosch had received overwhelming support.
When Fr MacKinnon returned to his parish on June 22 he had managed to procure the freedom of most of the jailed men. But there was a message waiting for him at the mission-house. The newlyappointed chief-of-police wished to see him at once. A police jeep was ready to take him at 6_15 pm and he was accompanied by two armed men.
Witnesses saw the police chief get into the vehicle and this was driven a few hundred yards out of town. The pistol shots were heard clearly by many people and the priest's dead body vas later recovered, together with those of two other men gunned down because they had witnessed the murder of Padre Arturo.
The Scarboro fathers in the Dominican Republic are proud of their first martyr; the people of Morse Plata parish revere and love his memory. Much of the history of Latin America is a sordid litany of brutal dictators propped up by superpower interference and vested commeniaI interests. The blood of the martyrs however continues to be the seed of the church, and the role of the church in this continent is crucial in the original sense of that %'ord.