Feast of James Arthur MacKinnon (June 26)   Leave a comment

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Above:  A Germane Headline from The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Article accessed via newspapers.com

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JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON (SEPTEMBER 30, 1932-JUNE 22, 1965)

Canadian Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr in the Dominican Republic

Most of the saints (canonized and otherwise) I add to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, lived and died hundreds of years ago.  Some lived and died thousands of years ago.  With this post I add another saint who lived and died decades ago.

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The divine mandate of social justice thunders off the pages of the Old and New Testaments.  It is prominent in the Law of Moses, with the ethos of interdependence and condemnation of human exploitation.  The divine mandate is also prominent in the pronouncements of Hebrew prophets, as in Amos 8:4-6 (The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition, 1993):

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, “When will the new moon be over

so that we may sell grain;

and the sabbath,

so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver

and the needy for a pair of sandals,

and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

Jesus identified himself with that ethos of economic justice when he quoted from Isaiah 61 and 58 at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19).  And, in Revelation 18, those who profited from business arrangements with the fallen Roman Empire (“Babylon”) mourn the fall of that corrupt and exploitative government:

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves–and human lives.

–Revelation 18:11-13, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)

James Arthur MacKinnon, born at New Victoria, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, on September 30, 1932, learned that ethos well and gave his life acting according to it.  He was 32 years old when he died.

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Before I expand on those statements I must, if I am to write this post properly, explain the situation in the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispaniola.  The ownership of land in the American colonies of the Spanish Empire was concentrated into the hands of a small minority of the population.  This meant that the vast majority of people were poor and landless.   This pattern remained after colonies became independent countries, which frequently had unstable political systems as well as  long stretches of time with military dictatorships as the norms.  Meanwhile, the landless poor desired land at least as much as large landowners resisted efforts to break up estates.

Dominican Republic 1945

Above:  A Map of Hispaniola in 1945

Image Source = Hammond’s New Era Atlas of the World (1945)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

In 1930 military leader Rafael Trujillo began his 31-year-long rule via a stolen election.  Sometimes he was the President of the Dominican Republic; at other times one puppet or another occupied the presidency.  Nevertheless, Trujillo was the de facto ruler (and sometimes de jure leader) of his country from 1930 to 1961.  His was a brutal regime.  It had started by means of thugs (secret police) torturing and killing supporters of his opponent in the election of 1930.  Trujillo tolerated no dissent and ordered the executions of tens of thousands of people, sometimes at once.  He also instituted policies which made him extremely wealthy at the expense of the masses, built up the capital city (Santo Domingo, which he renamed “Ciudad Trujillo” after himself in 1936) to the detriment of the common good, harmed the rural areas, and presided over a cult of personality.  His reign ended via assassination on May 30, 1961.  Ciudad Trujillo reverted to Santo Domingo, but Trujillo loyalists abounded.

Juan Bosch, a historian and novelist, was a leftist opponent of Trujillo.  Bosch had gone into exile in 1937 and founded the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) two years later.  He appealed to intellectuals, the middle class, and the poor.  Bosch won the presidential election of December 1962 in a landslide.  His time in office (February 27-September 25, 1963) was brief.  In the context of the Cold War Bosch’s plans for the redistribution of land alarmed the Kennedy Administration and large Dominican landowners alike.  Bosch’s desire to rein in the military upset elements of the armed forces.  His pro-labor politics alarmed industrialists.  And Bosch’s plans for a secular republic upset elements of the Roman Catholic Church opposed to the separation of church and state.  A military coup d’etat sent Bosch into exile in Puerto Rico (1963-1965).

Dominican Republic 1968

Above:  A Map of Hispaniola in 1968

Image Source = Rand McNally World Atlas–Imperial Edition (1968)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Civil War broke out on April 25, 1965.  The junta lost power, and a revolt to restore Bosch to power started.  The Revolutionary Committee held power for a few hours on April 25 before the two-day-long provisional presidency of Jose Rafael Molina Urena started.  During the interregnum (April 28-30) the Johnson Administration dispatched Marines to the Dominican Republic.  Pedro Bartolome Benoit led the U.S.-backed side from May 1 to 7.  Then General Antonio Imbert Barrera (who had participated in the assassination of Trujillo in 1961) succeeded Benoit, remaining in office until August 30.  On the opposite, pro-Bosch side Francisco Alberto Caamano Deno served as the rival president from May 4 to September 3, 1965.

Caught up in the civil war were thousands of innocent civilians.  Imbert’s U.S.-supported forces rounded up several thousand civilians, executed most of them, and disposed of almost all of the corpses.  This situation was intolerable to James Arthur MacKinnon, a 32-year old Roman Catholic priest whom the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society of Canada had sent to the Dominican Republic.  Father Art, or, as Dominicans knew him, Padre Arturo, worked from his home base about 55 miles outside Santo Domingo.  He was a known quantity to Dominican officialdom, for he had been agitating for land redistribution.  He protested the mass arrests and detention of civilians, making this a prominent part of a sermon.  He also interceded with officials, securing the release of some of these political prisoners.  On June 22, 1965, two police officers murdered Padre Arturo at Monte Plata.  Then a soldier killed the assassins.

Imbert’s forces (and, by extension, Imbert himself) were responsible for MacKinnon’s death.  U.S. journalist Drew Pearson minced no words about this fact in his syndicated column one week.

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Pearson 01B

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Source = The Indiana Gazette, Indiana, Pennsylvania, August 14, 1965, Page 20

Accessed via newspapers.com

In Canada, MacKinnon’s native country, press reports were likewise clear about this point.

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Source = The Ottawa Journal, Ottawa, Ontario, July 19, 1965, Page 17

Accessed via newspapers.com

The Dominican cover story was flimsy.  Imbert’s forces claimed that MacKinnon had been driving a jeep, zigzagging toward a military road block, refusing to stop at it.  Physical evidence contradicted that lie, however.  No, the policemen shot Padre Arturo at close range, according to three criminologists the Organization of American States sent to investigate this matter.

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The immediate settlement of the civil war entailed replacing the rival presidents with a provisional president, Hector Garcia Godoy, who served from September 3, 1965 to July 1, 1966.  Bosch returned to his native country and ran in the election of 1966, which he lost to U.S.-backed Joachim Balaguer.  Balaguer had been a puppet Vice President (1957-1960) and President (1960-1962) of the Dominican Republic under Turjillo.  The Johnson Administration and its successors supported Balaguer, who stole elections, jailed certain dissents, executed some of those dissidents, seized some opposition newspapers, and did little-to-nothing to help the poor.

James MacKinnon, a Canadian journalist and nephew of our saint, investigated the murder of Padre Arturo four decades after the fact.  He encountered much interference in the Dominican Republic, where many people remain loyal to Trujillo and his followers, and where the murder of Father Art continues to be politically sensitive.  The younger MacKinnon wrote of the murder of his uncle and of the realities of the Dominican Republic in Dead Man in Paradise (2006).

The problem of institutionalized and rampant poverty in the Dominican Republic continues.

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“Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus commanded.  Padre Arturo MacKinnon obeyed our Lord and Savior.  The example of this troublesome priest should teach us, among other things, about the divine mandate to oppose economic injustice and to live according to the Golden Rule.  The servant is not greater than the master.  Consider, O reader, what happened to Jesus, the master.  Sometimes, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood correctly, the call of Christian discipleship is an invitation to die for a righteous cause.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 2, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant James Arthur MacKinnon,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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