WINONA, Minn. — An Argentinian pope has joined a Guatemalan bishop as the second recipient of the Signum Fidei Award from Saint Mary’s University — created in memory of an SMU alumni martyred in Central America.
SMU President William Mann, along with SMU trustees Mary Burrichter and Sandra Simon, presented Pope Francis — personally — with the award April 15 after the pope’s weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
The Signum Fidei — Sign of the Faith — Award is bestowed in recognition of extraordinary service to the vulnerable and marginalized members of society and work that promotes human solidarity. The award presented to the pope is in the form of a bronze bust of Brother James Miller, a SMU alumni and member of the Christian Brothers who in 1982, while serving as a missionary in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, was gunned down by three unidentified gunmen while repairing a wall at the mission school.
Miller met his death serving the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten, Mann said. “This pope seems to be — in a major way — reaching out to those populations.”
Mann said that as he explained to the pope who James Miller was and what he had done, Francis reached out to touch the bronze and blessed it — the Latin American pope very aware of the situation at the time.
“It was an incredible experience,” Burrichter said of her meeting with Pope Francis. “He came up to us,” she said, “ Brother William spoke to him in Spanish. ...He held my right hand. He gave us his blessing, then said to us in English, ‘Pray for me.’”
“He seemed to be a very gentle, a very kind man.”
In 2010, the Church designated Brother James Miller a “servant of God” and a martyr for the faith — first step in a process that could end in being declared a saint.
“I am personally weary of violence, but I continue to feel a strong commitment to the suffering poor of Central America.” Miller wrote, shortly before his death. “I pray to God for the grace and strength to serve Him faithfully among the poor and oppressed of Guatemala. ... I place my life in his providence; I place my trust in Him.”
In September, Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, the site of Miller’s martyrdom, was presented the university’s first Signum Fidei Award in recognition of his continued commitment to the tasks Miller died attempting to fulfill.