Jesuits remember priest murdered in Guyana


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Tuesday, 14 July 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of the death of British Jesuit, Father Bernard Darke SJ, murdered by a mob as he took photos of a demonstration in Georgetown, Guyana. A gang of supporters of the Forbes Burnham government had attacked demonstrators from the Working People's Alliance and then turned on bystanders. Among them was the assistant editor of the Catholic Standard, Mike James, and Fr Darke, who was one of the newspaper's photographers.

Fr Darke at the time was a teacher at St Stanislaus College, a post he had held almost since he first arrived in Guyana in 1960. Prior to that, he had taught at Wimbledon College in south London and had been very active in the Scout Movement.

The headmaster of St Stanislaus College at the time, Fr John Hopkinson SJ, recalled shortly after Bernard's death: "Fr Darke introduced many boys to the wonders of the Interior of Guyana through journeys and camps. He made these visits to the hinterland
instructive field trips, and they were not without apostolic intent. It is easy to label Fr Darke as a scout leader, as a photographer, as a teacher, as a priest, but the labels should not mask the unity and motives of a likeable and hardworking Jesuit striving to do all for the greater glory of God."

Bernard Darke's funeral Mass in 1979 was celebrated in a packed Georgetown Cathedral, with Bishop Benedict Singh preaching. In his homily, the bishop addressed the young people in the congregation and said that Bernard would not want any memorial except the young people themselves. "Bernard would want you to become men and women who would never let hatred govern your actions," he told them, adding that they should be sorry not for Bernard but for the violence that caused his death and for those who supported violence by failing to speak out.

The British Provincial, Fr Michael Holman SJ, says the anniversary of Bernard Darke's murder calls to mind "the dark days of the dictatorship in Guyana and the part played by many Jesuits, Bernard Darke not least, in the struggle for freedom and democracy".

Born in 1925, Bernard Darke had attended St Peter's College, Southbourne, and then served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He entered the Society of Jesus in July 1946 and soon showed an interest in working in what was then British Guiana.

Writing in the current issue of the Catholic Standard, Editor Colin Smith muses that "it would have been much easier and some may add wiser if (Fr Darke) had simply carried on marking his end of year exam papers in his classroom at St Stanislaus College that morning instead of venturing out into the demonstration. Fr Darke was motivated not by
what was the safe and worldly wise thing to do, but by the necessity to serve the truth. His death is an example of how far treachery will go to have its own way and how far those who hope to stand firm against it must be prepared to go. Those who knew Fr Darke would also know that his death also shows that God often chooses quiet, imperfect, unassuming people through whom he works wonders. That often He brings about his
salvation with weak human instruments. No matter who we are or where we come from we can make a difference."