Dec. 1, 2015 – During his week-long visit with Jesuit institutions in the New York City, Padre Ismael Moreno Coto (known affectionately as Padre Melo) shared a key part of the mission of the Society of Jesus in the world today. “Whether you are at a Jesuit parish, high school, university or social service ministry,” Padre Melo said, “Jesuits and lay colleagues share the same mission: faith and justice.”
Padre Melo is the director of two Jesuit social ministries in Honduras staffed by over 50 lay collaborators: Radio Progreso and ERIC. Radio Progreso is a communications and formation ministry that brings investigative news and commentary to about 3 million of the 8 million people living in Honduras. ERIC is known by its Spanish acronym and translates to reflection, investigation and communication team. As a community organizing group, ERIC works to protect human rights of women, youth, family farmers, and indigenous people, among the most marginalized communities in Honduras. In recognition of this work, Padre Melo received the prestigious 2015 Rafto Prize.
Fr. Mark DeStephano, SJ, (UNE) translates Padre Melo’s presentation at St. Peter’s University.
Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world and audiences over the course of the week listened to Melo explain the complicated factors that contribute to that violence:
“It’s an overwhelming list,” said Nick Napolitano, assistant to the provincial for social ministries for the Maryland and USA Northeast Provinces, “and each time I heard Melo speak it left me wondering how anyone could push back against such powerful and entrenched forces. I felt tremendous admiration as well concern for the work of the staff at Radio Progreso and ERIC, who are literally putting their lives on the line to investigate corruption, environmental atrocities, and corporate malfeasance and to lift up stories of hope.”
Padre Melo visits with members of the Peace and Justice Committee at the Church of St. Francis Xavier. Xavier Parish co-sponsored Melo’s tour in the NYC area, along with the USA Northeast Province.
Since Melo began overseeing the work of these Jesuit ministries, two of his staff members have been murdered; sixteen staff members, including Padre Melo, are currently under protection from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights due to credible threats made on their lives.
Melo said he finds hope in his relationships with individuals and the small victories they give witness to: a journalist who drew attention to a mining company’s attempted land theft in a rural mountain village; a forthcoming investigation examining the impact of mining on the quality of water and health of surrounding communities; the release of a campesino leader wrongly accused of murder and unjustly imprisoned for years.
He remains inspired by the lives of the six Jesuits martyred at the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, their housekeeper and her daughter, who Padre Melo lived alongside and studied with while studying theology in the mid-1980s, saying, “the UCA martyrs are a force that invite us to leave behind fatigue and discouragement and keep fighting for a more just world.”
Melo also left the Ignatian family with a clear challenge, calling on us to speak out to elected officials to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy in Central America from national security to protection of human rights and sustainable integral development.
For Jesuit-informed educational and advocacy resources on promoting human rights in Central America, visit the Ignatian Solidarity Network.