“Jtatic" ("father" in Tzotzil), as the indigenous of Chiapas called Bishop Ruiz, served 40 years as bishop of the San Cristóbal de las Casas Diocese, one of the largest in Chiapas. He was born in 1927 in Irapuato, Guanajuato, and entered seminary at age 13 in León. In 1947, he moved to Rome to study at the Gregorian University and was ordained two years later on April 2, 1949. He also completed a dctorate in theology and sacred scripture there. Pope John XXIII named him bishop on November 14, 1969 and he was officially installed on January 25, 1960.
Bishop Ruiz participated in both Vatican II and in the CELAM Conference at Medellin. He chaired the Mexican Bishops' Conference's panel on ministry to the indigenous communities from 1965 to 1973. In 1975 he began promoting the permanent diaconate in his diocese and by the time he retired in 2000, 341 married men had been ordained as deacons.
In 1989, he founded the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, a non-governmental organization devoted to advocacy and the defense of human rights, especially of the indigenous people. In a statement on their Web site, the organization recommitted itself to working for their founder's objectives, saying that "our beloved Jtatic left us the incorruptible decision to struggle for justice and peacebuilding with dignity and perseverance." In 1993, Bishop Ruiz wrote a pastoral letter, “En esta Hora de Gracia” ("In this hour of grace" -- a selection is available in RELaT), in which he warned about the injustices that were being committed against the indigenous people.
In 1996, Mons. Ruiz received the Pacem in Terris award and in 2000, he was awarded UNESCO's International Simón Bolívar Prize for his struggle against violence, poverty and exclusion. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.
Bishop Ruiz lived through the armed struggle in Chiapas that began in January 1994 when the Zapatistas -- Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) -- appeared on the scene, composed largely of indigenous people with limited economic resources, who confronted the government. From 1994 to 1998, Bishop Ruiz served as mediator between the EZLN and the Mexican government, heading the Comisión Nacional de Intermediación (Conai). In 1995, he participated in the signing of the San Andres Accords.
In eulogizing Mons. Ruiz, Mexican President Felipe Calderon recalled his peacemaking work during that period saying, "From his diocese in Chiapas, Samuel Ruiz tried to build a more just, egalitarian, and worthy Mexico, one without discrimination and when the indigenous communities would have a voice and have their rights and freedom respected by all." He said the bishop's death was a great loss for all of Mexico.
The Mexico's Bishops' Conference issued a terse statement mourning Bishop Ruiz's death and indicating that a funeral Mass will be celebrated this Wednesday in the Cathedral of San Cristóbal de las Casas at noon. The Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas issued a more detailed communique about the arrangements and summed up Bishop Ruiz's life and legacy in 15 points:
1. The integral promotion of indigenous people as full actors in the Church and society.
2. The preferential option for the poor and liberation of the oppressed, as a sign of the Kingdom of God.
3. The freedom to denounce injustice before any arbitrary power.
4. The defense of human rights.
5. Pastoral participation in social reality and in history.
6. The inculturation of the Church, promoting what Vatican II required, that there be autochthonous churches, embodying the different indigenous and mestizo cultures.
7. Promoting the dignity of women and their co-responsibility in Church and society.
8. A Church that is open to the world and a servant of the people.
9. Ecumenism not only with other Christian denominations but with all religions.
10. A joint pastoral ministry, with shared responsibilities.
11. An indigenous theology, as the search for the presence of God in the original cultures.
12. The permanent diaconate, with a specific process among the indigenous people.
13. Reconciliation in the communities.
14. Unity within diversity.
15. Affective and effective communion with the Successor of Peter and the universal Church (III Synod, 571).