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Pacem in Terris Award

Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini, who has fought for peace in Guatemala despite threats against his life, will receive the Pacem in Terris award in a ceremony Sunday at St. Ambrose University. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini doesn’t think he’s afraid to die. 

Or, at least, he chooses not to think about it. 

If he did, the 64-year-old Gautemala native might not leave his home in San Marcos, considering the number of death threats he receives every year.

But his dedication, even in the face of extreme personal danger, toward protecting the rights of the indigenous people in his region of the country is, in part, why he will receive the 40th Pacem in Terris award on Sunday at St. Ambrose University, Davenport. 

The award, which also has been given to John F. Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, is given to people who actively work to bring peace on earth in keeping with Pope John XXIII’s letter, which called on all people to secure peace among all nations.

Kent Ferris, director of social action for the Davenport Roman Catholic Diocese, said the longevity of the award is not surprising. 

“The unfortunate part of it is, there’s always going to be a need for people that are dedicated to peace and justice efforts,” he said. 

Ramazzini said he was surprised and humbled when he was called on to receive the award. 

“I never expected it,” he said. “I am doing my work, and that is all.”

He said the Catholic church in Guatemala makes human rights activism part of its mission. 

“People who are involved in social justice are a large part of the church,” he said. 

The bishop started on his activist path with an eye-opening experience in San Marcos in 1989. 

“I thought I knew the problems of Guatemala,” Ramazzini said. “I was born in Guatemala City, and I started being a priest there. But I start to see a different reality. I found all of the problems you can find in Guatemala: poverty, injustice, malnutrition and lack of opportunities to young people.”

But alongside those problems, the bishop also found the danger that comes with the territory when working against people who don’t want to see the country change. 

“It was a very difficult time for us, especially for the Catholic Church, because we lost 14 priests,” Ramazzini said. “They were killed because they were involved in social justice issues or they defended the rights of the population.”

Despite the personal danger, Ramazzini has spoken out against the status quo in Guatemala for the past 21 years and said he hopes to continue doing so until he can retire and become a missionary. 

One of his hot button issues is immigration and families in the United States sending money to their families in Guatemala. 

“For me, it is so important because many people from San Marcos try to come here,” Ramazzini said. “I know many, many stories of tragedy. For me, it’s a big issue, the deportations that the government of the United States is doing, especially when those decisions divide families.”

Ferris said the members of the committee that selects the award winner are not all associated with the Catholic faith. 

“I think that there are some elements of peace and justice which are universal,” he said. “In many ways, peace and justice is the commonality among faiths.”

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