‘Working with the human rights cause is a privilege’
Just days shy of her final vows as a sister of Our Lady of the Congregation Canons of St. Augustine, Consuelo Morales was puzzled by a question: Was she willing to accompany a robber throughout his time in prison?
She was doubtful. “Imagine a nun doubting about her faith!” she told a group of youth during a liturgical service at a juvenile hall, a few days before she was presented the Human Rights Watch’s 2011 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.
But, she added, she took time for discernment, and a great part of her thought process was with incarcerated people. “What would I do if my brother was locked up?” she asked herself. “What would I do if someone wasn’t my relative and was locked up?”
And the answers were provided.
“I knew right then and there that I needed to start defending the rights of the less fortunate,” she told the juveniles listening intently.
Decades have gone by since she made the decision that has resulted in threats to her life and to the people working with her, but also in heartfelt thanks from countless families she has accompanied in their suffering after they lost family members to organized crime and violence.
In 1993, Sister Consuelo founded Ciudadanos en Apoyo a los Derechos Humanos (Citizens Supporting Human Rights, or CADHAC), the only nonprofit organization defending human rights in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, where organized crime has escalated, leaving hundreds of families with missing relatives, including members of the police and military forces. In the last two years, the capital city of Monterrey, where Cadhac is based, went from being the safest city in Mexico to one of the country’s most dangerous.
Following its mission of favoring a culture of respect to women’s and men’s rights, regardless of their line of thought, political positions or views of life, CADHAC has opened its doors to civilians, police and military officers, which no other organization has done in the history of Nuevo Leon, according to Nik Steinberg, Human Rights Watch representative in Mexico and the person who nominated Sister Consuelo for the Des Forges Award.
During his last visit to Nuevo León in October, Steinberg witnessed how policemen were coming to CADHAC seeking for support after a “depuration” of the police forces in the aftermath of the Casino Royale massacre last August by presumed drug traffickers in Monterrey.
“These are the same policemen responsible for other cases, for having tortured people, and they would come to CADHAC because they knew that organization was so embracing, so open that they wouldn’t be turned away,” Steinberg told The Tidings.
With a small staff of six people, he explained, CADHAC has managed to document abuses by security forces and violent drug cartels, and litigate key cases in an exemplary manner.
“Sister Consuelo believes as we do that those cases might not be taken to court now and maybe not in 10 years, but the fact that she documented with all the facts will help someone in the long run,” said Emma Daly, Human Rights Watch’s communications director.
Both human rights advocates said the nun and her colleagues need more protection, one of the benefits attached to the Des Forges Award, as well as international exposure, recognition and support.
“We feel it’s very important to give her a platform,” Daly said. “We make sure that people know who she is; we introduce her to potential donors who might be able to help her organization.
“We get her both financial and moral support. We want her to know that when she’s back home and it’s tough and it’s frightening and it’s lonely that people like Nik and the rest of Human Rights Watch are really with her.”
According to Steinberg, Sister Consuelo has the same effect on people as Alison Des Forges, a fearless American historian (who died in the Buffalo plane crash of 2009) who foresaw the genocide in Rwanda and tried to get the American government and others to stop it. She documented the killings in the book “Leave None to Tell the Story.”
“You see Sister Consuelo and she’s a little nun,” noted Steinberg, “but she can be very firm and the people involved in the cases she’s documented depend on her because she’s very brave.”
‘Walk humbly with God’
“Let me explain myself,” said Sister Consuelo, after introducing herself as a “very happy woman who wants to please Jesus by doing what He asks her to do.” Her audience was a group of religious and representatives of the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice gathered Nov. 14 at the nun’s request to exchange thoughts and experiences with people who have worked with the marginalized in L.A.
“Something that I’ve tried to do is something that the prophet Micah said: ‘Love tenderly, practice justice and walk humbly with God,’” she said citing Micah 6.
She explained how fear impacts people, including the victims, who prefer to remain silent rather than publicly denounce abuses. That situation has led to diminished financial aid and moral support from community leaders, she said.
As the head of the Conference of Religious Sisters of the Archdiocese of Nuevo León, she said efforts have been made to create human rights committees in every parish, but have not fully materialized.
Those gathered with Sister Consuelo at the Office of Restorative Justice shared their own experiences of serving those in need of being heard. St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Pat Krommer talked about the importance of building interfaith communities to create consciousness, citing her experience in seeking assistance in the 1980s when working with refugees of war in Central America.
Rita Chairez, a victims-of-violence advocate for the archdiocese and longtime member of Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, cited examples of people supporting each other in their own communities through their involvement in Christian Base Communities as well as after-school programs for the kids and shelters for the homeless and unemployed.
“We get our support from the congregation and from those we serve,” said Sister Krommer.
“And also from other people such as those in Human Rights Watch, who have been by our side all along,” said Sister Consuelo, one of seven recipients worldwide of the Des Forges Award. She and Sussan Tahmasebi --- founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign to support women’s rights in Iran --- received their awards during the Voices for Justice Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
“I believe,” said Sister Consuelo, “that working with the human rights cause is a privilege because it gives us an opportunity to love tenderly, practice justice and know that we are not important. We are simply the channel through which the tenderness of God can reach our brothers and sisters, but that channel has to be very clean and well-prepared and well-cared.”
Choking with emotion when talking about the importance of accompanying people in their suffering, she said the one thing that “holds” her is the certainty that everything they do at CADHAC, regardless the results, is an opportunity to let the victims know that there is someone who believes in their human dignity and is present with them.
“Human dignity is the most important thing,” she said emphatically. “We are brothers and sisters, and we have no right to inflict suffering on others.”
For more information about CADHAC, visit www.cadhac.org. For Human Rights Watch, visit www.hrw.org.
- Hayden Christmas Pageant
December 12, 2013 (8:30 AM)
- Nazareth House Auxiliary Christmas Luncheon & Card Party
December 12, 2013 (11:30 AM)
- Good Shepherd 90th Anniversary
December 12, 2013 (7:30 PM)
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.