The Cross still stands there, bleak and bare near the main road to Lurigancho Prison in Lima. No Mataras, the inscription reads. You shall not kill. People come to stand or kneel there, to bring flowers, to pray. Thirty years after she was killed, Joan Sawyer, the Columban sister from Belfast, who ministered to the prisoners in Lurigancho, is remembered.
The prison is also there, as drab, as unwelcoming, as overcrowded as when Joan walked the corridors. Lurigancho holds thousands of men, young and old, all hoping for a better life, for freedom. Men that Joan knew and loved, men who called forth the best in her, who knew that her gentleness would never fail, knew she would never give up on them.
On that fatal Wednesday, the 14th December 1983, she was, with other pastoral workers, taken as a hostage by desperate men, hoping to escape from prison. After hours of negotiation the authorities allowed them to drive out in an ambulance but as they went the police opened fire and Joan with seven of the nine prisoner hostages, was shot dead. In death as in life she remained with the poor, with the prisoners, with her friends.
Thirty years later we remember the quiet, gentle woman and the prisoners who died with her. She was, as one of her teachers said, “A beatitude person”. Her simple poverty, her gentleness, compassionate and peace-making ways, were the source of her strength and influence.”
Her story continues to inspire us, calls us to be compassionate, to work for justice especially for those in prison, for the poor, for those on the margins of our lives. Joan lives on in the hearts of the poor in Lima, the people she loved, and in the hearts of all who knew her, especially the Columban family who never cease to thank God for the gift she was, and continues to be, to all of us. May she rest in peace
By SRT, Assistant Editor, The Far East Magazine