Samuel Ruiz
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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) — Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a staunch defender of Indian rights who served a mediator in peace talks between the government and leftist Zapatista rebels, died Monday at the age of 86.

The man who replaced Ruiz at the Roman Catholic diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi, said Ruiz died at a Mexico City hospital. The federal Interior Department said he died of complications arising from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Ruiz became an icon of the struggle of the Mayan Indian groups who were long so marginalized and mistreated that they were forced to work in slave-like conditions into the early 20th century, felling the forests on land that was once theirs.

President Felipe Calderon said in a statement that "Samuel Ruiz struggled to build a more just, more equal, dignified Mexico without discrimination," adding, "He always acted with integrity and moral rectitude." "His death represents a great loss for Mexico," Calderon said.

The praise was a sharp contrast to the suspicion Ruiz aroused in past federal governments that sometimes accused him of collaborating with the rebel movement, or even leading it.

Ruiz led the diocese in the Chiapas highlands city from 1959 to 2000, when he stepped aside after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

The diocese is named after a 16th-century defender of Indian rights, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, who publicized the mistreatment of Indians being worked to death in the mines and fields of the Spanish colonies. Five centuries later, they were still living in poverty.

Ruiz was known to his followers as "The Bishop of the Poor" or "Tatik" — "father" in the Tzotzil Indian language — while critics called him "the Red Bishop" during the brief, armed uprising by the Zapatistas in 1994 to demand greater Indian rights. Some of the Zapatista leaders had earlier served as deacons under Ruiz before veering into the guerrilla group and some conservatives accused Ruiz of secretly fomenting the rebellion, an allegation that largely faded away as the movement's origins became better known.

Soon after the uprising, Ruiz was chosen to mediate talks between the government and the rebels. In 1998, the government pressured Ruiz to resign as mediator, implying he was too sympathetic to the guerrillas.

An uneasy truce has prevailed since then, with the Zapatistas holed up in a handful of "autonomous" townships in rural Chiapas where they do not recognize government authority.

"This marks the death of one of the great consciences in the defense of Indian rights, and human rights," said writer Homero Aridjis. "After Samuel Ruiz, it was impossible to look at Chiapas Indians, Indians in the whole Mayan area, in the same way."

Ruiz was part of the liberation theology movement that swept Latin America following the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. "Bishops like Samuel Ruiz took up the tradition of Fray Bartolome de las Casas," said Aridjis. "It is sad that, five centuries later, they had to take up the same cause."

Ruiz tried to fend off the rapid growth of Protestant denominations by adapting to Indian customs. He relied heavily on married male lay workers because the Indian culture grants more respect to men who had children than to celibate men like priests.

Some worried the deacons may have overstepped the limited role foreseen for them in the Catholic hierarchy — tasks like reading Bible passages during mass — possibly taking on some of the functions of priests.

In 2002, the Vatican council asked Arizmendi to halt deacon ordinations, arguing that continuing them "would be equivalent to sustaining an ecclesiastic model alien to the life and traditions of the Church."

The practices of his "Indigenous church" irritated conservatives, who suggested he was twisting church theology, and the Vatican opened an investigation into that included a look at suspicions that women had been ordained as deacons and the use of Mayan works such as "Chilam Bilam" and the "Popol Vuh" were read.

The results of those investigations were not released.

Ruiz is survived by a nephew.

Arizmendi said the retired bishop's body will be returned for a memorial service to San Cristobal de Las Casas. Burial plans remained unclear.


Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press
Published in News Tribune (Tacoma) on Jan. 25, 2011.
Memories & Condolences
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10 entries
February 9, 2011
Don Samuel was truly a friend of the poor, Mexico's saint like El Salvador's Oscar Romero. His life of loving, humble service to Chiapas and his commitment to justice and peace was a witness to his deep faith. Our Sisters of Humility have worked with Bishop Ruiz in Chiapas for many years and count him among our closest friends. May he intercede for all peacemakers now.
Sister Jeanie Hagedorn
January 27, 2011
To the Ruiz Family and Friends,

Deeply sorry for the loss of such a caring and hard worker like Mr.Ruiz.
I hope you all can draw on the many wonderful memories he must have made over the years.

Psalms 34:18-"God is near to those broken at heart..."

The Grant Family
January 27, 2011
It is moments like this that makes me look forward to the fulfillment of the scripture at Rev chapter 21-verses 3 thru 5. In the meanwhile may all the friends-family-and supporters of the Beloved SAMUEL RUIZ find comfort in all the memories of him.
Camille .
January 26, 2011
Bishop Ruiz was and is an inspiring person and authentic man of the Gospel. His values were Christ's values. His love came from the heart of Christ. His action for the poor came from his love for God and God's people. May he rest in peace and may his community in Chiapas feel his presence and God's love always.
Fr. Donald MacMillan, SJ
January 25, 2011
Reading Bible passages has been a death sentence in some places at some times; it's reasonable to question why. This man man has already paid the price for human sin (death) and his future is in the hands of the same Judge who will set true justice in motion for all of the Indians and other humans who suffered at the hands of their fellow humans...as well as perfectly balanced justice in the case of those who were the tormentors. It is not the end for those who pass on; their life's purpose is outlined in Genesis and God's purpose has not changed. The Bible is our greatest source of comfort, strength, and freedom; it is not something to be afraid of or to suppress from every man/woman/child.
Noni deBaugley
January 25, 2011
My son is now at a small village not far from San Cristobal teaching indigenous children. Bishop Ruiz is truly an inspiration and I have sent my son this obit so he can be inspired.
c d
January 25, 2011
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
Y.A.
January 25, 2011
To my dearest family, some things I'd like to say...
but first of all, to let you know, that I arrived okay.
I'm writing this from heaven. Here I dwell with God above.
Here, there's no more tears of sadness; here is just eternal love.

Please do not be unhappy just because I'm out of sight.
Remember that I'm with you every morning, noon and night.
That day I had to leave you when my life on earth was through,
God picked me up and hugged me and He said, "I welcome you."

It's good to have you back again; you were missed while you were gone.
As for your dearest family, they'll be here later on.
I need you here badly; you're part of my plan.
There's so much that we have to do, to help our mortal man.

God gave me a list of things, that he wished for me to do.
And foremost on the list, was to watch and care for you.
And when you lie in bed at night, the day's chores put to flight.
God and I are closest to you....in the middle of the night.

When you think of my life on earth, and all those loving years
because you are only human, they are bound to bring you tears.
But do not be afraid to cry; it does relieve the pain.
Remember there would be no flowers, unless there was some rain.

I wish that I could tell you all that God has planned.
But if I were to tell you, you wouldn't understand.
But one thing is for certain, though my life on earth is o'er.
I'm closer to you now, than I ever was before.

There are many rocky roads ahead of you and many hills to climb;
but together we can do it by taking one day at a time.
It was always my philosophy and I'd like it for you too...
that as you give unto the world, the world will give to you.

If you can help somebody who's in sorrow and pain,
then you can say to God at night......"My day was not in vain."
And now I am contented....that my life has been worthwhile,
knowing as I passed along the way, I made somebody smile.

So if you meet somebody who is sad and feeling low,
just lend a hand to pick him up, as on your way you go.
When you're walking down the street, and you've got me on your mind;
I'm walking in your footsteps only half a step behind.

And when it's time for you to go.... from that body to be free,
remember you're not going.....you're coming here to me.

Ruth Ann Mahaffey (author)
©Copyright 1998
Rosa Maria Orozco
January 25, 2011
We are so sorry to hear of the loss of MrRuiz, Please accept our deepest sympathies. Atlanta,Ga.
January 25, 2011
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of this friend or family member. I hope the bible can be of some comfort at Isiah 33:24.
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