October 16, 2013 — St. Martin de Porres, a Jesuit parish in Belize City, Belize, is a parish set apart by the violence surrounding its walls. In 2012, Belize achieved the unwelcome distinction of having the fourth-highest murder rate in the world, 10 times that of the United States, according to United Nations crime reports. Eighty percent of the country’s violent murders occur in Belize City, and the city’s south side, where St. Martin’s is located, is its most violent section.
Since Jesuit Father Matt Ruhl became pastor at St. Martin’s two years ago, he has worked to transform the campus into a clean and safe oasis amidst a rough neighborhood of unkempt homes and littered streets — one of the toughest in Belize.
Fr. Ruhl has buried men who have been murdered, and even the priests’ residence has been broken into. In response to the violence ravaging the city, Fr. Ruhl organized a 300-mile march along the length of the country to promote “a culture of peace” earlier this year. On Feb. 1, he led walkers from the Sarstoon River, the country’s northern border with Mexico, to the Toledo district bordering Guatemala. It took 13 days.
“My desire is that the walk inspires all the citizens of Belize, to say ‘Look, it is just a small minority of people who are causing the trouble,’” Fr. Ruhl said. “The overwhelming majority of Belizeans are peace lovers, and they just have to stand up and take control of their country. Belize is more beautiful than a lot of Belizeans know. I love my St. Martin de Porres students. They gladden my heart.”
Fr. Ruhl looks forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of St. Martin’s founding in 1966. In the 1960s, population growth to an area developed from former mangrove swamps made a new school and parish necessary. Today, the St. Martin’s campus includes a church, three primary school classroom buildings, a preschool and a parish center. [Missouri Province]