Michal Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski, two Conventual Franciscan Friars from Poland, had been in Peru for several years ministering to the poor and needy in the parish of Pariacoto, in the Diocese of Chimbote. There, they were faithful to the difficult task of fulfilling the needs of the parish while at the same time making the rounds to several needy villages in the area. Despite the difficulties of the conditions, the Friars never failed to leave behind their Franciscan brand of humility, poverty, and kindness; and their ability to see the good in every situation.
Unfortunately, their work was targeted by the terrorist group “the Shining Path,” who had vowed to escalate their violence against the Catholic Church. In August of 1991, the group publicly announced that they would kill one priest every week in the Diocese of Chimbote.
While the first priest the guerrillas targeted escaped execution, Michal and Zbigniew were not so lucky. On August 9th after the evening Eucharist celebration, they were taken from the church, led out of the village to the local cemetery, and killed.
Sixteen days later, the group targeted a third victim. Alessandro Dordiwas a diocesan priest from Italy, who was sent to Peru in 1980. He was assigned to the northern boundary of the Diocese of Chimbote and had focused his ministry on the poor peasant farmers in the very rural areas of the Diocese. It was because of his affiliation with these disadvantaged groups that Alessandro became the next target of the guerrillas. As he drove from one town to another to celebrate the last Mass of the day, the guerrillas blocked the road with stones. When he stepped out of his car, they executed him.
A nun who knew the Franciscans said, “They stayed there until the end. This is not something you improvise; it’s a gift. I saw Fr. Zbigniew a few days before his martyrdom, and I asked him if they were being threatened. He smiled and said, ‘We cannot abandon the people. One never knows, but if they kill us, bury us here.'”
The deaths of these three men have been a reminder to Christians everywhere of our call to be faithful to the Gospel “even unto death.” Their funerals were a testament to the love the people had for them, and their devotion to the native communities they served. While Peru has had saints and blessed before, this beloved priest and these two devoted Conventual Franciscan Friars have become the first Martyrs of Peru.