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In Memory: Acacio Belandria S.J., human rights advocate
December 14, 2012

In Memory: Acacio Belandria S.J., human rights advocate
Acacio Belandria, S.J.

(Bogota) December 15, 2012 — The commemoration of the global struggle for human rights was December 10; a day to mark the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a commitment to preventing atrocities of war. On this day it is necessary to extend this commitment to other areas of human relationships, in which disputes over natural and economic resources are attacking the well-being of humankind. Thus, a call to hospitality and respect among peoples must prevail to renew the commitment to human rights.

One man who believed in the absolute dignity of all human beings and blatantly fought against the discrimination of the most marginalized and excluded of Venezuela was Jesuit priest Acacio Belandria. Sadly, he passed away Dec. 10 in a car accident, leaving his parishioners and El Nula's people in deep sorrow.

Acacio was a man who dealt with all dimensions of human rights doctrine, not only using mechanisms to defend human rights. Through the office of the ombudsman for the rights of minors in El Nula and the Commission for Justice and Peace, in addition to caring for all victims of human rights violations and accompanying them through the legal process of restitution, he took a pioneering approach promoting peace and human rights through teacher training and community development education programs.

As a strong advocate of the rights of refugees, Acacio was one of the few who dared to publicly condemn the forced recruitment of boys and girls in El Nula, the abuses and arbitrary detentions by the military of refugees, and the presence of Colombian armed groups, such as the FARC and the ELN, within Venezuelan territory.

His leadership gave impetus to the work of Jesuit Refugee Service in Venezuela, among other projects that today help to improve the lives of impoverished border communities. But, in addition to developing the institutional framework for rights of those in his parish, Acacio was able to incorporate this human rights framework into his work as a shepherd and companion of communities and the volunteers serving them.

Acacio's life is a synthesis of deep religious conviction and dedication to the struggle to promote the rights of all, starting with the most marginalized. Almost 83 years of age, Acacio continued making monthly visits to more than 16 rural communities in Alto Apure state, bringing the word of God, the Eucharist, and other sacraments.

Although Acacio is dead, his struggle continues. The struggle of people who, from their experience of the living God, have been encouraged to work for the dignity of the most excluded.

Or those who, disgusted by injustice in the world, have discovered a living God in daily struggle for the most disadvantaged, raising their awareness of their rights and accompanying them in the midst of adversity; offering a glimmer of hope.

Without doubt, Acacio's deep humanity and spirituality drove him to accompany us all, victims and advocates, regardless of their creeds. Acacio's creed was focused on a radical love, a love which should be expressed in Latin America in the unrestricted struggle for the rights of all.

Thanks Acacio, for being a radical witness of service and conviction.

by Merlys Mosquera Chamat, Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Latin American and Caribbean and 
Eduardo Soto Parra S.J., parish of El Nula, Venezuela