Melo talks with St. Peter’s Prep modern language professor Tom Powers before his presentation for the high school’s prayer service in remembrance of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador.
During Week in NYC Padre Melo Lifts up the Extraordinary Work of Faith and Justice at the Heart of Jesuit Ministry

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 ERICRadio 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.
For Padre Melo, the service of faith and the promotion of justice calls on members of the Ignatian family to both encounter and accompany people living in poverty and marginalization and address the structural injustices that create this suffering. In more than 20 advocacy visits, Masses, conversations and presentations during the week of Nov. 16, Melo highlighted how his ministry in Honduras allows him to offer faith and hope to the people he accompanies who are living in poverty and facing extreme levels of violence while working to change the economic and political injustices at the root of these problems. He frequently noted that his work wasn’t extraordinary, just a well-discerned response to the challenging realities facing people across the country.

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:

  • Vast amounts of wealth in the hands of a few families while the majority of people live in poverty;
  • Lack of economic opportunities for ordinary people, while elected officials make deep concessions to attract multinational corporate investment;
  • Politicians who care more for their own financial gain than for the people they are elected to serve;
  • Communities beset and controlled by gangs;
  • Drug traffickers bringing 80% of the cocaine destined for the U.S. from Colombia through the country;
  • Police working hand-in-hand with gangs and drug traffickers while promulgating violence and murder without investigation.

“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.

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