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The rosary and the desaparecidos

A reflection on the mysteries of the rosary and its relevance to the lives of families of the disappeared

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Updated: October 04, 2019 02:02 AM GMT
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The rosary and the desaparecidos

Families and friends of victims of involuntary disappearances light candles and offer flowers in Manila to remember their loved ones. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

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For Catholics, October is the rosary month as September is the "birth month" of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In kaleidoscopic vividness, reminiscences of the dawn processions, locally known as "aurora," during October back home come to mind.

The rosary is a "crown of roses," and we know that the rose has innate beauty and fragrance, and it has thorns.

The flower’s attributes are a perfect analogy of the "joy, sorrow, light and glory of Jesus and Mary," which are clearly remembered when praying the rosary.

Having worked for almost three decades with families of victims of enforced disappearances in various parts of the world, I reflect on the mysteries of the rosary and relate these with the lives of those who continue to suffer.

Enforced disappearance is "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state."

It is followed by a "refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law."

This definition signifies bitter-sweet sufferings and struggles on the one hand, as well as joys and gratification on the other, like the rosary.

Albeit incomparable with human sufferings, the rosary’s sorrowful mysteries bring to mind the "desaparecidos" who are stripped of their lives and liberty.

It likewise reminds us of the agony of the families who are caught between hope and despair.

Stigmatized by society, surviving mothers, children and daughters are heavily laden with the burden of searching for their disappeared loved ones. Arduous it is to find them, more so, to attain that elusive justice.

The joyful mysteries may also be likened to big and small victories for the cause of the disappeared.

While painful, exhuming and identifying skeletal remains and providing proper burial facilitate closure and peace of mind.

Winning cases in courts, putting perpetrators to justice and imposing on them appropriate punishment are significant inroads toward non-repetition.

Nothing can be more gratifying in the search for the disappeared than in being able to find stolen children and reuniting them with their loved ones.

This is happening in Timor-Leste, Guatemala, El Salvador and Argentina.

Pondering on the glorious mysteries, glorious was the moment the United Nations adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006.

I was fortunate to have participated in the three-year drafting and negotiation in Geneva resulting in the establishment of this international treaty that provides the right to truth and the right not to be disappeared.  

The convention's very provisions stem from true-to-life experiences of families of victims.

Reflecting on the luminous mystery, the formation of associations, as victims’ families bond themselves together in their common hope, pain and struggle, is a light that illumines the path toward a world without desaparecidos.

Families of the disappeared are living witnesses to the cruelty of the crime. Memorials built speak loudly of state violations of human rights.

Incessant campaigns to end this scourge with the hope of attaining a world without desaparecidos parallels the repetitive recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Praying the rosary is an integral part in the faith of many Catholics, including victims of disappearances.

Nine years back, at La Verbena cemetery in Guatemala, I saw a 60-meter mass grave.

At the time, forensic people had already discovered 3,177 remains buried during different periods of the Guatemalan war. From the remains retrieved, it was amazing that several rosaries were found.

Grace Viray, the wife of Filipino desaparecido Renato Topacio, who disappeared in 1988, shared that after her husband’s disappearance she tried hard to forget her faith in God. For ages, she only put her rosary beads inside her pocket, unused.

"But after a long time, I gradually used every bead to pray the rosary again. It continues to help me transcend the devastation caused by my husband’s disappearance," she said.

Profound indeed is the meaning of the Holy Rosary, especially among victims of enforced disappearances.

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is former secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of victims of enforced disappearances, the government of Argentina bestowed upon her the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.

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