Aguchita is regarded and remembered every September by Sisters wanting to keep her memory alive. This year in particular is cause for remembrance and celebration of her life. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has approved Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd’s request to open the cause toward Beatification of Maria Agustina ‘Aguchita’ Rivas Lopez, RGS, as a holy martyr.
Aguchita killed for loving the poor
Members of The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) publicly executed Sr. Agustina on September 27, 1990. They killed her in Peru’s central jungle area, along with six local villagers. Her executioner was a 17-year-old girl. Her crime was loving Peru’s poor and indigenous people.
Political corruption and fanatic terrorism haunted Peru from 1980-2000. The majority of the violence during this troubled time took place in the central highlands, among the indigenous Quechua speaking populations. These people are the poorest and most politically marginalized groups in the country, even today.
This was also the location of the most significant growth of the Evangelical Church in Peru in the years leading up to and during the period of violence. It suffered disproportionately to the rest of the country. In some instances, entire villages of Christians were wiped out in massacres by The Shining Path, a militant wing of Peru’s Communist Party that based its extremist philosophy on Maoist principles.
Group members sought out priests and nuns routinely to condemn and execute them. The Shining Path’s manifesto was to kill those who preach peace. Christians involved in social work, feeding the poor, for example, were singled out. The Shining Path accused them of using charity as a tool to oppress the people.
“Religion is the opium of the people, a way of keeping them under control,” The Shining Path had declared.
A truth commission found that nearly 70,000 people perished in the conflict, with The Shining Path responsible for more than half the deaths and security forces blamed for roughly two in five.
Sr. Agustina was fondly known as Aguchita. She was 70 years old and not a political activist when she was executed. She worked at the Good Shepherd program in Florida, Peru, which focused on young women and women farmers in the local jungle areas – the poorest in the valley.
Sr. Aguchita was a simple minister who taught cooking, made candy and supported the dignity of girls in Florida’s poor jungle region. She was well-loved.
The new martyrs
Sr. Aguchita was the first woman religious to fall victim to The Shining Path. The second was Sr. Irene MacCormack, who was killed in a public trial along with four other persons in May 1991. Three priests who were also murdered by The Shining Path rebels in 1991 became Peru’s first martyrs beatified by the Catholic church. Under Vatican rules, martyred saints do not require the same evidence of miracles performed.
Pope Francis has said, “The number of martyrs today is greater than in the early centuries [of the Church]. The “new martyrs” is a term that is used to refer to the thousands of Christians who lose their lives today because of their faith.
The latest report generated by Open Doors USA, a nonprofit organization focused on serving persecuted Christians, found that one in 12 Christians today experiences high, very high, or extreme persecution for their faith. Nearly 215 million Christians face high persecution, with 100 million of those living in Asia.
Through the years, some have spoken of a de facto new standard for martyrdom called odium amoris, “hatred of love,” which could apply to candidates such as Sr. Aguchita.
“May Aguchita’s life of total commitment to love of God and people inspire and renew us all in the months ahead,” said Sr. Ellen Kelly, Congregational Leader.
There is a shrine of Sr. Aguchita at the Good Shepherd Motherhouse in Angers, France.