AMERICA/PERU - "She ended her life praying for everyone". Sister Maria Agustina Rivas, killed for being a peacemaker

Thursday, 23 March 2023 missionaries killed   cause of beatification  

by Stefano Lodigiani

La Florida (Agenzia Fides) - "A missionary nun killed for having been a peacemaker", this is the title of the news in which Agenzia Fides reported on the tragic death of Sister Maria Agustina Rivas, missionary nun of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, September 27, 1990 in La Florida, in the Apostolic Vicariate of San Ramon, Peru. "You are sentenced to death because you sow peace, promote the social condition of people and give them sweets" was the accusation, reported by Fides, read before a group of armed men from Sendero Luminoso killed the nun and five other people with gunshots.

Sister Maria Agustina intended to teach a group of young women how to prepare meals, in the Social Promotion Center opened ten years ago by her Congregation in La Florida, with the aim of offering social assistance and charity to farmers, indigenous people and women. A group of armed men burst into the center and took the nun away, without finding the superior. The group gathered the population in the square, separating six people. The leader of the armed group read aloud a proclamation stating the reasons for the death sentence. Immediately afterwards the executions began, the last being Sister Maria Agustina, who had offered herself in exchange for the release of the others. Before falling under the blows of the firing squad, she knelt down and folded her hands in an attitude of prayer. She was accused of being a peacemaker who, through charitable works and educational activities, had turned young people away from armed insurrection.

Fearing further reprisals from the executioners, the bodies remained in the square until the next morning, when they were buried together in the town cemetery. Sister Agustina "had thus remained among her peasant brothers, alive and dead, as she had always wished." The body of Sister Agustina was then exhumed by the Peruvian judicial police to undergo an autopsy. The sisters then asked to collect their sister's remains, which were buried on October 6 in the Presbytero Maestro cemetery in Lima.

Agustina had always been a peacemaker and promoter of her people, as confirmed by the "conviction sentence" that cost her her life. Her religious congregation received countless expressions of solidarity and gratitude when news of her bloody death spread. The Bishops of Peru launched an appeal to the guerrillas of the "Sendero Luminoso" and the "Movimiento Tupac Amaru" to put an immediate end to the violence which, over the past ten years, has claimed 21,000 lives, thousands of wounded, maimed and refugees, as well as millions of dollars in material losses. The Bishops underlined: "This is the first time that an armed group has killed a nun in a deliberate and conscious way".

Maria Agustina Rivas López, known as Aguchita, was born on June 13, 1920 in Coracora (Peru). At the age of 14, she went to Lima to study at Sevilla College, run by the sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd. In 1941, she entered this same Congregation, made her temporary religious profession on February 8, 1945 and her perpetual profession on February 8, 1949. She lived in Lima until 1988, exercising various services in the community, from the most humble to those of educator, assistance to minors in situations of abandonment, social risk and poverty, and collaborator of the Mistress of Novices.

In 1988 she was sent to La Florida, in the region of Junín, where the Congregation led a mission with a special commitment to support peasants and indigenous people, with particular attention to the promotion of women in these communities. Despite the growing danger of the bloody actions of the Sendero Luminoso, the Congregation continued to organize health, education, nutrition, literacy, crafts and family catechetical programs. Sister Agustina saw in this new mission a new chance to be with the poorest, even though she was aware of the difficulties and the risks.

The cause of beatification and canonization took place, at the diocesan level, from October 4 to 16, 2017 in the Apostolic Vicariate of San Ramón, in whose territory La Florida is located. In 2018, Sister Aguchita's mortal remains were transferred to Santa Rosa da Lima Church in La Florida. Her martyrdom in odium fidei was recognized by Pope Francis on May 22, 2021, and her beatification was celebrated on May 7, 2022, in La Florida Central Park.

A book has also been dedicated to the Peruvian missionary, who gave her life for the Amazon and the Amazonian peoples, entitled "Aguchita: death cannot be improvised, love is our vocation" by Alfonso Tapia, Vicar General of San Ramón. Commenting on the text, the historian José Antonio Benito also points out that among the peoples of the Peruvian forest in Aguchita "we see many Saint Teresa, because of her experience of spiritual childhood, in trust and abandonment to God. Without this dimension, Aguchita would be an excellent social activist but reduced to a social volunteer. This is where the key to her charity and holiness is revealed ".

In his account of the murder of Aguchita and the villagers, José Antonio Benito points out that "the nun - at all times - prayed for everyone. This is how her life ended and that of the villagers who died in this tragic day". But for the believer, the martyrdom does not stop at the bloody act, so that "the death of Aguchita, and thousands of innocent Peruvians who died unjustly, becomes a testimony of peace and freedom".

On Saturday, May 7, 2022, in La Florida Park, in the Apostolic Vicariate of San Ramón, in the same place where the nun was killed, Mass was celebrated for the Beatification of Sister María Agustina Rivas López, known as Aguchita. Presided over by Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras, Archbishop of Mérida and Apostolic Administrator of Caracas, envoy of Pope Francis, it was attended by thousands of faithful.

"Sister Agustina's martyrdom presents several aspects that deserve to be taken into consideration", the Cardinal highlighted in his homily. "First of all, the non-sense of violence, crime, injustice, the wickedness of ideologies for which human life does not count. The indiscriminate use of weapons leaves only death and desolation, it does not solve the real problems of human coexistence". In the light of the Word of God and with the power of the Eucharist, the Cardinal invited believers to "cultivate vocations to the priestly life, to the consecrated life, to the stable presence of lay leaders, who give space for the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit sows in everyone”.

For Sister Agustina "martyrdom was not an improvisation, but the final holocaust of love for one's vocation", Cardinal Porras underlined, recalling that "her life and her death remind us that for each baptized, this is a constitutive dimension of one's existence; the whole of Christian life regards martyrdom as a permanent horizon, in this oblative dimension, whether in a bloodless way most of the time, or in a bloody form". Recalling the Gospel passage of the Mass, Cardinal Porras highlighted that "in Sister Agustina, the Gospel of the Good Shepherd became present. As a good shepherdess, Aguchita gave her life for her sheep... Today we celebrate the triumph of life over death and take up the Easter challenge to be disciples and missionaries passionate about learning and teaching how to live".

At the end of the Mass, the Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of San Ramón, Msgr. Gerardo Zerdín, announced that the church in front of which the Beatification Mass was celebrated will be the "Vicarial Shrine of Saint Rosa of Lima and Blessed Agustina, Martyr".
Pope Francis, after the Regina Coeli prayer on Sunday, May 8, 2022, paid homage to the new Blessed in these terms: "While aware she was risking her life, this heroic missionary always remained near the poor, especially indigenous women and peasants, witnessing to the Gospel of justice and peace. May her example spark the desire in everyone to serve Christ faithfully and courageously". (Agenzia Fides, 23/3/2023)