SANTANDER, Spain, JULY 22, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The last words of Father Mariano Arroyo Merino expressed his forgiveness for the would-be robbers who knifed and burned him.
The Spanish priest, 74, was murdered July 13 at his parish of Our Lady of Regla, in Havana, Cuba. Father Arroyo was the second Spanish priest to be assassinated in Cuba in less than a year. Father Eduardo de la Fuente Serrano, 59, was killed Feb. 14.
Father Isidro Hoyos, another Spaniard who carries out his ministry in Cuba, was a friend of them both. In Santander for vacation, Father Hoyos was interviewed by the Diario Montañés. He recounted that Father Arroyo's last words were "I forgive you."
This revelation came from the suspect who has admitted to killing the priest.
Father Hoyos met Father Arroyo in 1970 in Spain. At the urging of his friend, Father Hoyos left for Cuba in 2001, having reached the age of retirement in Spain, to continue with his priestly ministry on the island. "Yes," he explained, "it happened that that summer (of 2000), Mariano was here (in Spain). He had already spent many years in Havana. I told him (I'd go to Cuba), it seemed a good idea to him and I went. We lived together for four years and then they assigned me to the barrio of Alamar in Havana."
There, he carries out his mission among a population of 100,000 people. "It is a village that was created after Castro's revolution, but a village of 100,000 inhabitants. Actually it's a city-dormitory" and it has just one parish.
The priest described it: "It's a little house with a patio -- a few grains of sand among this immense multitude. On Sunday we have the (Eucharistic) celebration and some 300 people participate. That's not many, but before there was nothing."
Father Hoyos said being a priest in Havana is not difficult. "People treat you very well," he explained. "I wasn't accustomed to the adoration that is felt there for the figure of the priest. The Cubans are very reverent with sacred things."
He said he supposes that the investigations are correct in presuming the motive for Father Arroyo's murder was an attempted robbery.
"Mariano had a big safe but he didn't have much of value there -- only a crown for Our Lady that had more sentimental than monetary value. It was very old," he noted. "If he had money, it wouldn't have been much. Mariano had just finished doing some work in the parish because it was in very poor conditions. And if he had money from donations, he didn't keep it in the house but in the bishopric. In any case, if the robber would have given him the choice between the money and his life, undoubtedly Mariano would have given him the money without resistance."
The two suspects under arrest for the murder have confessed, Father Hoyos noted, "and the one who killed Mariano revealed that his last words were, 'I forgive you.'"
And that would be characteristic of Father Mariano, his friend contended. "He was a profoundly religious man. He was very coherent, very austere."
Father Hoyos added that it was no surprise multitudes attended the funeral. "I imagined that would happen," he said. "Mariano was very well-known there. I think that it was the biggest gathering Havana has seen, not counting Castro's manifestations."
For his part, Father Hoyos will be returning to Cuba next month, and reported that he is not frightened by this prospect. "I don't think (the two slayings) are going to become an unending chain," he said. "I have a commitment to those people and I am going to fulfill it. It seems cowardly to not return. I am not saying that I'm indispensable, but I feel obligated to return."