Ms. Julia Esquivel (1930 – ) is a Guatemalan poet, theologian and peace activist. Ms. Esquivel lived in exile from her country for nearly a decade as a result of her work on behalf of justice for indigenous Mayan people. Author of two collections of poems, Threatened with Resurrection and The Certainty of Spring, Esquivel continues to work for human rights and nonviolent conflict resolution in Central America from her base in Mexico.

The region of Central America has seen as much civil unrest in the twentieth century as any place on the globe. Cycles of dictatorships, resistance movements, and civil wars have happened frequently throughout the region. Indigenous peoples have often been hardest hit, suffering great political repression, dispossession of their lands and having few economic resources to use as a buffer against horrific violence.

And yet, the region is also the birthplace of some of most hopeful peace and justice movements alive today. This is true because of people like Julia Esquivel de Velasquez. Born in San Marcos, Guatemala, in 1930, Esquivel went on to study at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, the Seminario Biblico Latinoamericano in Costa Rica, and the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Switzerland. She has worked as a teacher, principal, and pastoral social worker. She is also a writer and human rights activist.

As her native Guatemala endured nearly 30 years of catastrophic political violence under the rule of a series of dictators, Esquivel watched as thousands and thousands of Maya, Quichez and other indigenous groups were savagely murdered. Hundreds of villages were literally wiped off the face of the earth and the entire nation experienced a type of profound communal trauma in the face of massive and often arbitrary brutality. Where others gave up hope, or took up arms in resistance, Esquivel searched for another path toward peace.

Against this bloody backdrop, Esquivel played the role of activist, poet, and minister. She stood as a witness to God’s justice and compassion, and acted as a healer amidst a land of suffering. As a result of her work on behalf of the poor and oppressed in Guatemala she was threatened and harassed by police and army forces for many years, narrowly escaping kidnapping, arrest, and assassination. Finally, in 1980, she was forced to go into exile to save her life. As an exile, Esquivel lived in Switzerland among the nuns of the Grand Champs monastic community for eight years. At other times she lived in Mexico and Nicaragua as well.

Instead of dwelling on the difficulties of exile, Esquivel used her time as an opportunity for education, as school for her own development and as a time to heal from the pain she experienced watching so many people endure fear, torture, and death. From her base in Switzerland, she traveled throughout Europe and into the United States and Canada, speaking, organizing, and advocating on behalf of the millions suffering in the Guatemalan holocaust. She gathered her strength through time in reflection and prayer, searching for a way toward healing —- healing for her own wounds and rages, and the healing of her wounded and raging nation.

She has begun to find and create that healing in her ministry of reconciliation, in her work with global solidarity movements, in her work with churches and rural communities in Guatemala, in prayer and contemplation, and in the spirit of truth and compassion that pervades her poetry. She says that her poetry was literally like oxygen for her, arising as much out of need as out of volition—the need to heal, the need to keep on living. Perhaps because it is born out of such depths of both suffering and wisdom, it carries a particularly powerful message of life’s longing to let love have the last word.

William Fulton
Staff Writer, The Veterans of Hope Project


Julia Esquivel. The Padrenuestro from Guatemala and Other Poems, Costa Rica: Ecumenical Department of Investigations, 1981.

Julia Esquivel. Threatened with Resurrection: Prayers and Poems from an Exiled Guatemalan, Elgin: Brethren Press, 1982

Julia Esquivel. You Will Bloom Guatemala, Mexico: United House Publications, Editions CUPSA, 1989.

Julia Esquivel. Floreceras Guatemala, Mexico: United House Publications, 1989

Julia Esquivel. The Certainty of Spring: Poems by a Guatamalan Exile, Washington, D.C.: Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean, 1993.

Julia Esquivel. Some Secrets of the Kingdom, Guatamala: SEED, 1997.

Julia Esquivel. Some Secrets of God’s Reign, Algunos Secretos del Reino, Guatemala: EPICA, July 2002. (Bilingual)

Individual Poems

Julia Esquivel. The Lord’s Prayer from Guatemala (bilingual) link