Enrique Angelelli and Pepe Palacio

Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Argentine Bishop Enrique Angelelli of La Rioja diocese, a former JOC and JUC chaplain, who was killed in a deliberately staged car accident on 4 August 1976, just nine months after his JOC co-worker, Jose Serapio ‘Pepe’ Palacio, had also been killed by the military.

Enrique Angelelli

Born on 17 June 1923, Enrique Angelelli, like Pope Francis, was the son of Italian immigrants, he grew up in the city of Córdoba where he began his studies for the priesthood at Our Lady of Loreto minor seminary at 15 years of age.

He was then sent to Rome to finish his studies, where he first heard and met Cardijn. After completing these studies, he was ordained as a priest for the diocese Córdoba on 9 October 1949.

There he started working in a parish, where he founded the JOC with Pepe Palacio and worked in the city’s slums. During this period, he also became a chaplain to the JUC university students movement.

In 1952 he was appointed as diocesan chaplain for the Cordoba JOC and was placed in charge of the Cristo Obrero chapel. By 1954, he was a member of the JOC National Chaplaincy Team. (Verbitzky 2006)

Clearly, he was a rising star and Pope John XXIII named him as auxiliary bishop of Córdoba on 12 December 1960 when he was just 37 years old.

Yet Cardijn and Romeo Maione at the International YCW Secretariat only learned of this appointment four months later in April 1961. However, they were not slow in congratulating the young jocist bisho:

“The Argentine JOC is losing one of its most ardent chaplains, but it is gaining … a Bishop who has just joined those who, before their entry into the Hierarchy, had first been pioneers of the JOC in Argentina and Latin America,” Cardijn and Maione wrote. No doubt here they were thinking of bishops like Manuel Larrain in Chile, Helder Camara in Brazil as well as Angelelli’s compatriot Enrique Rau.

Was there also a tinge of regret there at losing a potential continental and international chaplain for the JOC? Probably. Indeed, almost certainly. Cardijn was looking for his own replacement at this time and Latin America was at the forefront of his thoughts. The fact that Angelelli had also worked closely with Pepe Palacio, who had also taken part in the International Bureau of the JOC, meant that his qualities as a chaplain were well known to Cardijn and Maione as their letter indicates. Plus, at 37, Angelelli was the right age to succeed Cardijn either immediately or in the future.

Moreover, he had great experience in helping the Argentine JOC to negotiate a particularly delicate church environment in which some of the very founders of the JOC in that country were themselves extremely conservative, not to say reactionary, including Cardinal Antonio Caggiano.

In any event, Cardijn and Maione did not hesitate to wish Bishop Angelelli all the best in his new mission.

“May the good God enable you to work for many years in this new mission for the good of the Church in Cordoba and your dear country! The JOC Internationale counts more than ever on the support of Your Excellency.”

Sadly, it did not take long before the new bishop found himself at odds with his own superior Archbishop Ramón José Castellano, who asked Angelelli to abandon the use of his motorcycle ,which was allegedly not suitable for a bishop. However, Angelelli declined.

Other more serious conflicts within the diocese also soon arose. Bishop Angelelli refused to accept a request from local Catholic factory owners to punish priests who were supporting workers in their claims for better wages and conditions.

“If these injustices continue, some day bosses and parish priests will face the firing squad,” Bishop Angelelli warned.

Meanwhile, the Second Vatican Council was getting under way, with its First Session being held from October to December 1962. Naturally, Angelelli was an enthusiastic participant.

By 1964, Angelelli and other local priests were seeking to implement the conciliar reforms in the diocese. And he now found himself confronted with even greater opposition. The outcome was that Archbishop Castellano excluded him for a time from the government of the diocese before eventually reinstating him.

What was Cardijn’s role here? Further research may indicate this. However, Cardijn made an extended visit to Argentina from 9-25 November 1963, during the Second Session of the Council. Thus, he must certainly have been aware of these developments.

Two years later, in 1966, after the conclusion of the Council, the Argentine bishops established the the Episcopal Special Commission for Pastoral Planning (COEPAL) within which Angelelli was elected as vice-president and in which he came to play the leading animation role (Verbitzky 2006).

Indeed, as we have seen in an earlier post, according to Juan Carlos Scannone, it was within this commission that the Argentine “theology of the people,” perhaps the earliest form of liberation theology, first developed with the participation of other jocist chaplains including particularly Lucio Gera and Raffael Tello, as well as Scannone.

Moreover, this jocist influence also began to make itself felt in the documents of the Argentine Episcopal Conference, e.g. in the 1967 Pastoral Declaration of the Argentine bishops, who now also included Bishop Eduardo Pironio, formerly the editor of the Notas de pastoral jocista and future cardinal president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

During this period, Angelelli also played a key role in adapting the conclusions of the Latin American bishops at Medellin in 1968 into what became known as the “San Miguel Document” in 1969 in which the jocist influence is again unmistakable.

Meanwhile, Paul VI had given Angelelli his own diocese, making him bishop of La Rioja in 1968, where he continued his involvement with the people, particularly on justice issues.

In this line, in 1971, Angelelli also gave his tacit support to the emerging Movement of Priests of the Third World.

Not surprisingly, in 1973, he entered into another major clash with landowners of the region, including the future Argentine president Carlos Menem, that led to Angelelli being denounced to Rome as “a marxist and communist.” Fortunately, he found support in Rome both from Cardinal Villot, himself a former JOC chaplain, and from Paul VI, another Cardijn disciple.

Nevertheless, as Argentina moved closer to military dictatorship, tensions continued to increase, leading to his martyrdom at the hands of the military in a staged car accident on 4 August 1976.

On July 18, 1976, two La Rioja priests – Gabriel Longueville, a French Fidei Donum priest, and Carlos de Dias Murios – had been abducted and murdered with their bodies showing signs of torture discovered the next day. It was while he was returning from their funerals on 4 August that Angelelli’s truck was run off the road in what was characterised at the time as an accident.

Thirty eight years later in 2014, an Argentine tribunal finally convicted two army officers over the killing of Bishop Angelelli. In fact, Pope Francis, who had known Bishop Angelelli during the 1970s, released evidence to the tribunal that helped in establishing the motives of the killers. In fact, Angelelli had also requested the future pope to intervene to shelter three seminarians from La Rioja.

Finally, on 21 April 2015, Pope Francis decreed that there was no obstacle (nihil obstat) to opening Bishop Angelelli’s cause for canonisation.

Pepe Palacio

Six weeks before his disappearance, Pepe Palacio attended the JOCI meeting, Bogota, Colombia, October 1975
Back row: 2nd from left Rosa Hernandez then David Hernandez (Venezuela)
Middle: Lucie Saint-Germain
Front: Pepe Palacio in the middle then Fabrice Epis, Juan Enrique

Yet, we cannot remember Bishop Angelelli without also paying tribute to the memory of his co-worker, Jose Serapio Palacio, who had become a trade unionist and a leader of the Christian Workers Movement in Argentina and Latin America.

Married to another former JOCF leader, Amalia Castaños de Palacio, Pepe was also the father of three children.

In 1975, the JOC Internationale Latin American team proposed his nomination as the first lay collaborator of the movement. And Pepe was elected to this position in April 1975 at the Fourth International Council of the JOC in Linz, Austria.

In October 1975, he attended a meeting for factory workers organised by the JOCI in Colombia.

This was almost certainly a major factor in his “disappearance” six weeks later on 11 December 1975.

Two days later, he was killed with a bullet to the head, although it was not until decades later that Pepe’s son Jose-Luis Palacio was able to confirm this fact when finally Argentina opened up its files relating to the “Dirty War.”

The Cardijn Community International commemorated Pepe Palacio’s life and death at a special ceremony in India last December.

Many more details of Pepe’s and Amalia’s life and work are also available on this commemorative website.

A lay-clerical partnership

I think that it’s therefore appropriate to remember both Enrique Angelelli, the JOC chaplain, and Pepe and Amalia Palacio, jocist lay leaders, on this anniversary.

Enrique and Pepe began their jocist commitment together in the working class suburbs of Cordoba in the late 1940s. A quarter of a century later, this commitment led them both to their martyrdom at the hands of death squads.

It would be appropriate and symbolic too if the Church considered Enrique and Pepe’s causes for canonisation together. Moreover, she should also remember Pepe’s wife, Amalia, who suffered another kind of martyrdom remaining alone to bring up their children and never knowing the complete fate of her husband.

Stefan Gigacz