|Painting of Father Casimir|
Amazing to see how many saints and future saints have been born in our lifetime.
SERVANT of GOD FATHER CASIMIR (MICHAEL) CYPHER was born in 1941, the 10th of 12 children from a farm family in
. He attended St. Mary’s
Minor Seminary in Medford,
and joined the Conventual Franciscans. He graduated from Illinois Loyola
University in and was ordained a priest in 1968. As
a student, novice and seminarian he was noted for his great kindness, humor,
generous spirit and simple nature. Chicago
Many of his contemporaries noted how reminiscent of St. Francis he was. He loved nature and all of God’s creation penning poems and whimsical stories that carry canticle like feel to them. After serving as a simple parish priest in
and California, Father Casimir opted to go the
missions in . Honduras
Father went to
to serve the campesinos (peasants) with the sacraments, education, medical
care, food and the Gospel. He served in one of the poorest regions of Honduras Honduras, which itself was one of the poorest
countries in Latin America. Conditions and
daily life were extremely difficult for thepeople. Where Father Casimir worked
the roads were unnavigable and seasonably
unusable, there was little or no medical
care for families or education for children other than that provided by the
missionaries. At that time, approximately half of the child born in Olancho
died before age five, a troubling statistic that bears witness to the
difficulties the people faced.
Father Casimir brought the love of offering the sacraments, running the parish and school and serving the poorest people as best he could.
At this time political strife was emerging throughout the country. On June 25, 1975 five thousand poor and landless campesinos began a six day “Hunger March” from
nation’s capital demanding action on promised land reforms from the
military-led government. Olancho,
Para-military groups under the control of wealthy landowners and the Army moved to stop the marches, they attacked the campesinos, raided the residence of the Bishop (himself a Franciscan), attacked rectories, seminaries and civil institutions tied to the reform movement.
Father Casimir was not a revolutionary. He expressed no political views and did not participate in the marches. While driving a beaten down truck to a repair shop, shots rang out in the square near where Father Casimir was. He rushed in to help the injured and dying with Last rites, prayers and first aid attention. Soldiers and armed personnel carriers surrounded the square. There, Father Casimir was seized.
It is believed he was mistaken for another priest, who served as the head of a local institute. In the end, Father Casimir was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was innocent. Father Casimir was seized, stripped and beaten in the center of the square. Even as he was being humiliated by his captors he walked around the chaos at center of the plaza absolving the living and blessing the bodies of the slain.
Father Casimir, another priest and several women were arrested. That night they were taken to an abandoned farmhouse where they were judged guilty without trial, tortured and mutilated. That night several peasant prisoners were baked alive in a large communal oven on the grounds. And after numerous tortures, the priests were shot in the head. The priests’ bodies were thrown in a dry well with living victims. The well was dynamited and the area bulldozed to conceal the crime.
Several religious sisters and campesinos witnessed the crimes and reported what they had seen. An outcry arose throughout the land, and with pressure from the Conventual Franciscans, the Catholic Church in the
and the US State Department, an official investigation was launched, the well was
discovered and the bodies exhumed. Honduras
Father Casimir’s body was taken to the Cathedral at Gualaco where his remains are buried today. Thousands of people from throughout Olancho province processed to the church and paid their respects to their “santito,” or little saint. He is fondly remembered by the people he served and his life’s witness is credited with inspiring new vocations in the diocese.
“Look for eternity in those who are near you right now. For your eternity begins today; it begins this moment. It begins right now…”