By Larry Peterson
It is estimated that in Argentina during the years 1976 thru 1983, between 10,000 and 30,000 people died by torture and execution. They called it The Dirty War, and it was one of the darkest periods in the nation’s history.
Enrique Angelelli was born in Cordoba, Argentina on July 18, 1923. His parents were Italian immigrants and devout Catholics. Their influence certainly contributed to Enrique’s entrance into the Seminary of Our Lady of Loreto when he was only 15 years of age. He studied hard, was sent to Rome to finish his studies and was ordained to the priesthood in 1949.
Father Enrique Angelelli was a “man of the people.” He was very devoted to the poor and needy and would visit the slums frequently, mixing with his “poor friends.” He even founded youth movements among the street kids. On December 12, 1960, Pope St. John XXIII, appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Cordoba. He and his close friend, Father Jorge Bergoglio, (who would one day become Pope Francis), were very much alike. The future Pope also loved the poor and marginalized and tried to help the workers.
Carlos de Dios Murias was born in Cordoba in 1945. His father was a wealthy real-estate man and also a well known radical politician in Cordoba. He wanted his son to be a military man, but Carlos had different desires. He had met Bishop Angelelli and the man’s spirituality and love of the poor inspired Carlos. He felt a religious calling and, in 1965, he became part of the Orders of Friars Minor. He made his “simple profession.” in 1966. On December 17, 1972, he was ordained to the priesthood. The Bishop who ordained him was Enrique Angelelli. Carlos de Dios Murias had specifically asked if he might ordain him.
Gabriel Longueville was born on March 18, 1931, in Ardeche, France. He was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of Viviers, Alfred Couderc, on June 29, 1957. He had asked to be assigned to areas where he could work with the poor. In 1969 Father Longueville was transferred to Argentina by Bishop Jean Hermil. He was assigned to La Rioja Diocese along with Carlos de Dios Murias. They were both under the authority of Bishop Enrique Angelelli.
Bishop Angelilli, Father Carlos Murias, and Father Gabriel Longueville could never have imagined how they and one other man, a layperson by the name of Wenceslao Pedernera, would soon be linked together in heavenly perpetuity. The evil politics of the day was rapidly turning into what seemed to be an unstoppable force.
In 1968, Pope Paul VI appointed Bishop Angelelli bishop of the Diocese of La Rioja. He quickly became involved with labor union disputes, encouraged domestic workers to form unions, and tried to form cooperatives for the people that manufactured bricks, clocks, bread, and knitted products. It did not take long for him to be arrested. He was an activist bishop, but he was doing what he thought best for his church and his people.
By 1969 Bishop Angelelli had been campaigning by both the printed word and radio broadcast about the plight of the farmers and the workers. He denounced the drugs, gambling, and prostitution that was supported by the wealthy. He condemned human rights abuses by the governors and pushed for unionization of the workers. Conservative Catholic organizations turned against him, and his radio programs were banned.
In 1973, political unrest saw the expulsion of nuns and priests from the town of Annilaco and the people began calling the Church of La Rioja, “communist.” In 1974 Bishop Angelelli visited Rome and was advised to stay there because of the danger to him back in Argentina. He was being threatened by the “Three A Group” made up of police officers and the Anti-Communist Alliance of Argentina. The bishop did not heed the warnings and returned home.
On July 18, 1976, Father Carlos de Dios Murias, 33, and Father Gabriel Longueville, 44, were having dinner together when two men with federal police identification entered there home and questioned them for about ten minutes. Then they were told they had to go to La Rioja to identify some prisoners. The next day their bodies were found near some railroad tracks. The two priests had been tortured and shot to death.
One week later, on July 25, two hooded men went to look for the parish priest of Sanogasta, but because he had been warned by Bishop Angelelli, he had already fled the area. The men went to a nearby house to ask where the priest might be. Wenceslao Pedernera, a layperson, was there with his three young daughters. Terrified at the men wearing hoods, the girls cowered next to their father. When Senor Pedernara told the men the priest was not there, they promptly shot him multiple times. His girls fell to the ground holding their dad’s body. They were physically unharmed. What psychological damage was done to them, we can only imagine.
Bishop Angelelli knew he was targeted and had told a close friend, “It’s my turn next.” On August 4, 1976, he was driving a truck with a priest friend, Father Arturo Pinto. He was on his way back from offering a memorial Mass for Father Gabriel and Father Carlos. Father Pinto said that a car was following them and at the right moments forced them off the road. The truck flipped over and when Father Pinto regained consciousness, he found Bishop Angelilli dead in the road. The back of his head had been smashed in with a blunt instrument. He had been beaten to death.
These four men were murdered “In Odium Fidei”; (In hatred of the faith). On June 8, 2018, Pope Francis approved the decree that Bishop Angelelli, Carlos de Dios Murias, Gabriel Longueville, and Wenceslao Pedernara, will be beatified sometime in 2018. No date has been set.
We ask these four martyrs to please pray for us all.