Abstracts from THE MALTESE MISSIONARY EXPERIENCE – 03
by Fr John Caruana
“He has a silent story, but which says a lot.”
With these words the young secretary of the Pastoral Commission for Land Reform (CPT), Maria das Graças Teixeira Rodriguez, described the work of Fr John Mary Cauchi, formerly of Għarb, Gozo. “He always worked with his companions as a team, defending the farmers who were being threatened by the landowners.” The CPT declared on several occasions that, The Land belongs to humanity as a whole and not to a few selected landowners. The Land belongs to God and as such should be considered as being The Land of the Brethren.
This verse, paraphrased from Portuguese, epitomizes the spirituality of the struggle of Fr John Mary and his colleagues in favour of Land Reform:
The Land God gave it to us, to sow and produce,
To collect and share, to live!
Let us lift up our hands to God
So that he showers on us work, rain and bread,
Let us Bless God and ask for His Love,
Justice, Health and Peace.
God gave us the Land so that we can cultivate it
And nobody lacks the daily bread.
God wants us to be conscious of the millions
Without bread, without a roof.
The farmers responded to this threat of the great landowners by resisting, claiming that “from their land they wouldn’t be ousted: it was theirs to keep” This was the struggle in which Fr John Mary Cauchi jointly with the CPT of the Catholic Church, and backed by his bishop Jose Pirez became involved. It was the time when the Church in Latin America declared the evangelical option for the poor.
During the years Fr John Mary had to face as many as 20 lawsuits and the court rooms were invariably packed with those who support land reform and who were struggling for their piece of land. According to the secretary of the CPT, at one moment he had more sittings at the Law Courts to attend than Holy Masses to celebrate.
Testimony of Bishop Jose Maria Pires
“Fr John Mary Cauchi, formerly of Għarb, Gozo, was first sent as a fidei donum seminarian to Recife. Bishop Helder Camara contacted me saying that the seminarian John Mary Cauchi is not feeling well in Recife which was a great metropolis. He liked to work in a place which is poorer and where common people abound. I accepted him rapidly and in fact his arrival in Paraiba was really a blessing. He was ordained by me at the age of 25 years in December 1967. He wasn’t a great orator but he knew how to communicate well with the farmers. That epoch was marked by two special happenings: the military dictatorship and Vatican II.
John Mary evangelized more by his example than by his words. He lived the gospel of non-violence, he was present and near the people in their struggles in favour of their rights. He was persecuted and suffered attempts on his life.”