It was with great sadness that family, friends and the faithful gathered to pay tribute to Fr. Andres Giron- church leader, reformer and passionate servant of the poor. Over the last two months he fought a valiant battle against his diabetes, hoping to overcome its ravages, including the amputation of his right leg. On his birthday- Valentine’s Day-when he turned 67, seven priests gathered in the intensive care room to offer the sacrament of Holy Unction for healing of both body and soul. Their fervent intercessions and that of people throughout Guatemala and the world were keenly felt, but the announcement of his passing two days later would bring his martyrdom to an end. He now belonged to the ages and the judgment of God.
Fr. Andres visits his beloved flock of San Miguel
What transpired after that was truly remarkable. People by the thousands from all walks of life came to pay their respects, each with a treasured memory or sense of gratitude for selfless service rendered on behalf of his beloved Guatemala and the holy church of Christ. One comes to know the tenderness of his heart and the impetus behind his passionate cry for social justice when listening to the stories that shaped his conscience. He tells of traveling to a parish one day by horse over the mountains of Santa Ana Mixtan, suffering from hunger. He came upon a small hut with a thatched roof and he said to a Mayan woman: “Maria, can you give me a tortilla with salt?” And she answered, “I have five children, and I don’t have money to buy my corn.” He recalls the piercing effect of her words: “This answer made me cry, and I left even hungrier, but with a full conscience.” Later that day he would return with the church collection and give it to her.
Further evidence of the forces that shaped his mission in life can be found in the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, whose large photo taken from Life Magazine hangs on his office wall. Also, while studying in Memphis, Fr. Andres met with Martin Luther King, shortly before his assassination, whose council convinced the young Andres to pursue justice by non-violent means. Then there was the witness of the heroic priests who gave their lives for the cause of social justice in Central America. Fr. Andres admired them greatly, naming some of the many village that he built after these heroes.
More than anything else, however, the force that moved him to endure many sufferings, exile, threats, rejections, false accusations and three attempts on his life, was his passionate love for Jesus Christ. When preaching Christ or receiving the Eucharist tears would well up in his eyes. Evidence of the seriousness with which he pursued the call of Christ to minister to the “least of the brethren” can be found in the lives of the thousands whom he touched. For some it was a scholarship to receive an education, for many communities and individuals it was help to buy some land to cultivate their crops. Almost every day, Fr. Andres would receive visitors seeking counsel for their problems, prayers for healing, legal help to register their property or to recover what was taken from them fraudulently, medicine for the sick or help in finding doctors. He gave many unwanted children and orphans a place to call home under his roof. While attending to his pastoral duties as a priest, he maintained a seminary for as many as 75 students at a time, many of whom later would serve the church or distinguish themselves in their chosen careers. Then there were the arduous trips over dangerous roads to remote villages where spiritually abandoned communities bereft of pastoral care would now have a father. He also served as a senator in the congress, led 70,000 on a historic march for peace in 1986, represented his country on a UN commission for human rights and headed up the campesino movement for agrarian reform.
Whether as an educator, preacher, political activist, friend, healer of broken bodies and souls and visionary, Fr. Andres Giron grounded himself in the rich soil of an unconquerable faith in Christ. Such was the life of the man who led his people to Orthodox Christianity. He was their father and mentor in every conceivable way. May his memory be eternal and his legacy a lasting one.