Friday, August 14, 2009

Padre Fausto - a priest in service of the poor: their justice and their health

I have written in previous posts about Padre Fausto, an extraordinary priest who is not only a man with a deep piety but a priest in service of the poor. He's not afraid to say what he believes and his long Sunday sermons at the church of San Martín de Porres often touch the political and economic reality of the country. He is also not afraid to touch on issues of diet and nutrition, as well as the manipulation of fiestas - such as the August festivals here in honor of Santa Rosa de Lima - into excuses for consumerism and drinking festivals.

Padre Fausto is also a very warm and compassionate person, with a strong Eucharistic piety, characteristic of many Hondurans in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. Last year a friend visited and we went to Mass. I was hoping he'd speak somewhat politically since my friend is very involved. However, he gave one of the warmest homilies I'd ever heard him preach. He's truly a man with many sides.

Below I offer a translation of a January 2007 article on Padre Fausto. It is good to recall that his recent prominence - speaking at the July 5 rally in Tegucigalpa and at the August 11 Mass and rally in San Pedro Sula - has roots in his life-long commitment to Christ and the poor.

Padre Fausto Milla:
in service of health and the poor

Previously persecuted as a subversive, today he is an expert in natural medicine and has been nominated for an international award.

Two decades ago, no one could imagine that Padre Fausto Milla would be recognized for his social work for the poor, since in the seventies and the beginning of the eighties his evangelizing work provoked the police and the army to persecute him as if he were a common criminal.

In his parish of Corquín, Copán, [Honduras], composed mostly of campesinos and indigenous, he started to organize the people to defend their human rights and to recover the value of their culture. For this he was the victim of threats, persecution and arrests. This state of affairs obliged him to leave the country to seek refuge in Mexico where he expanded and perfected his knowledge of natural medicin . Today this dangerous “guerrilla” in the eyes of the army and the National Office of Criminal Investigations [DINA] has become a source of life through natural medicine.

For his contribution to food sovereignty and security, the National Alliance against Hunger awarded him on October 2003, the National Food Prize. Presently he is nominated for the Bartolomé de las Casas Award which America House of Spain awards to people or institutions which are outstanding in promoting, protecting, and respecting the cultures of indigenous peoples. His candidacy arose from campesino sectors and from the popular movements.

His childhood

Fausto Milla was born in Guarita, Lempira, October 22, 1927, the second of the five children of José María Milla and Trinidad Nuñez.

“The Millas are a s Spanish family which stayed here and from his youth my father lived an intense struggle. Guarita is a Lenca town which was invaded by the Spanish, who live in the center of town, own the businesses and are always the mayors. One time, the Indians rose up against the whites and my father, even though he was not an Indian, joined then,” related the priest.

During the dictatorship of Tiburcio Carías Andino, his father had to flee to El Salvador; the family was left with nothing since his possessions were confiscated and “the only riches my mother was left with were four children and a fifth about to be born. I remember that one day we slept in the house of a Mr. Mardoqueo in the little village called La Majada; for giving us a place to stay he demanded a cow as a fine.”

His education

When he was five years old he studied music with the teacher Benjamín Rivera, where he learned to read music. A year later he began studies in the Manuel Bonilla Primary School in his native town.

There was no secondary education in Guarita. His mother didn’t have the resources to send him to another place but a priest friend in El Salvador helped him study in a high school in Santa Tecla, [El Salvador]. He stayed there two years. Later, as a Marist brother, he traveled to Colombia to work and continue studying.

He returned to Guatemala in 1950 and stayed there for ten years; after this he lived in El Salvador and four years later he traveled to Rome where he participated in the opening of the [Second]Vatican Council in 1962.

In 1963 he returned to El Salvador and later to his native town to care for his mother until she died. He traveled again to Colombia and in August 1968, together with 200 other Latin Americans, he was ordained a priest by Pope Paul VI.

His return as a priest

Ordained a priest, he returned to Honduras. The bishop of the diocese of [Santa Rosa de] Copán assigned him – on loan – to the Capuchin priests who served [parishes in the department of] Ocotopeque and part of Lempira. He was named pastor of Guarita where there were many border problems.

This is where he was when Salvadoran troops invaded Honduras in 1969. “I had to suffer that war of thieves, murderers, and lechers; I suffered deeply when the Salvadorans took down the Honduran flag in the school where I had studied in order to raise the Salvadoran flag; it appears to be a small detail, but it struck me hard,” he stated.

His stay in Guarita was short, since he was moved by the diocese on August 22, 1970, to the parish of Corquín, Copán, with a flock made up mostly of campesinos. From the moment he first arrived, he was rejected by the merchants who created division in the church and formed a group, called “Catholics United, of those who didn’t like the guidance which the new priest was giving to the people. But most of the people accompanied the priest in his struggle to improve the conditions of life for the population. He stayed here until November 1982.


While he was pastor of Corquín Padre Milla also served as director of CARITAS of the diocese. His work in organizing the communities and protecting Salvadoran refugees provoked the military and both the secret and uniformed police to continually persecute him.

An important event in the life of Padre Fausto was the Sumpul River massacre, on Wednesday, May 14, 1980. About 600 people who lived in the same area and were fleeing from the Salvadoran caserios of San Jacinto and La Arada, were killed by Salvadoran and Honduran military and police. The massacre ended at 4 pm. On Thursday, May 15, Honduran campesinos searched the area of the massacre and rescued the survivors. The armies had [by then] left the area.

Sunday, May 24, from his parish in Corquín, father denounced the massacre. The news was officially ignored and, because of government pressure, the story did not circulate in the news media. But a month later he again made a public denunciation, this time backed by 36 priests and sisters, together with the bishop of [Santa Rosa de] Copán, Monseñor José Carranza Chevez; they held both armies responsible for the massacre.

[Honduran] President Policarpo Paz García called the denunciation slanderous and irresponsible; he denied the massacre and threatened to expel from the country the foreign priests and sisters who signed the declaration. Nevertheless, the Honduran Bishops Conference, presided over by Monseñor Hector Enrique Santos, stood behind the accusation.

The Honduran army took control of the Sumpul region to avoid dissemination of the news of the massacre; survivors who showed their documents to priests or journalists [to identify themselves were later disappeared; and at least twice in May the Salvadoran army made forays into Honduran territory.

The army and the police accused Padre Fausto of organizing groups of guerrillas and storing weapons. They often searched the rectory in Corquín, and the churches in Belén Gualcho and Sensenti, Ocotepeque. The churches were raided and the priest threatened with death.

When traveling between Cucyagua and Corquín Padre Fausto used to pass the [post of the] Seventh Infantry Battalion; they used to detain him there for four hours for searches and interrogations by army officials.

In hidden jails

In February 1981, when he was returning from Mexico after participating in the People’s Tribunal, Father Milla was abducted by death squads in La Flecha, Santa Barbara. He was held captive for six days in a torture chamber located on Third Avenue, right across from the National Drugstore in San Pedro Sula. They did not torture or interrogate him but they didn’t give him anything to eat and he had to endure the cries of other detainees while they were being tortured.

He was transferred to Tegucigalpa where he was interrogated by agent Bográn who had recently come from Argentina after having specialized in repressive actions; he also spoke with Coronel Juan Evangelista López Grivalda, one of the main persons responsible for the disappearances in the 1980s. [Padre Fausto’s] abduction was known internationally and there was a lot of pressure on the government until they released him.

Padre Fausto recalls that while he was in jail he found out that Facundo Guardado, a Salvadoran revolutionary leader who had been disappeared for a month in Honduras, was there. No one knew this until Padre Fausto, when he was freed, declared this publicly. Days later Facundo left jail in freedom when the Honduran Popular Liberation Movement “Cinchoneros” hijacked a plane and demanded the release of various political prisoners.

His people support him

When Padre Fausto Milla was freed, more than four thousand people from various municipalities in the south of Copán and Ocotpeque demonstrated in the streets of Corquín to condemn the government’s action.

In the parish [center] there were two US sisters and a German theologian who was attacked by the police for taking pictures of the demonstration. Some agents of DIN [the secret police] infiltrated the demonstration; they also took photos, taped speeches, and identified the leaders. Soon after, the persecution began and some went crazy after a month of tortures in Santa Rosa and Tegucigalpa.

“Right there in Corquín they began to beat [the people] in front of me, because when they began to arrest people I went and put myself almost in the doorway of FUNEP, together with a lot of other people,” said the priest. The situation turned very difficult. In November 1982, ten months after the demonstration, they set up a network to arrest or kill him, but he managed to escape to the North Coast [of Honduras] where he stayed in hiding, moving from house to house between Choloma and San Pedro Sula.

He left as an exile for Mexico and returned in 1986, which was still a time of great repression. Even though the military was keeping an eye on him, he began again to work with the indigenous, promoting natural medicine, the recovery of the [indigenous] culture, and the defense of human rights, above all in the Lenca and Chortí communities, through the Honduran Ecumenical Institute of Services for the Community (INEHSCO), which was founded in 1980.

In twenty years this work has been expanded to other areas of the country where father ha gone for consultations, to train people in natural medicine, and to promote healthy diets. He has also done this through the radio and print media.

Father Milla continues his work as a priest and participates in the struggles of the communities. Recently he has participated in the actions against the construction of the El Tigre dam and against open pit mining. At 80 years of age he is considered a rebel like Jesus; he maintains his youthful spirit and the firm hope of achieving a Honduras with dignity.


Translated by John Donaghy from Vida Laboral, enero de 2007, pp. 30-32. It can also be found in Spanish at <>

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