Pastor’s work in Belize helps him draw connections to areas of poverty and violence in St. Louis

Oct 21, 2015

Father Matt Ruhl.
Credit Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Father Matt Ruhl has been exposed to poverty and violence all over the world. One of his first assignments as a Jesuit was to lead a classroom at St. John’s College in Belize. Following that experience, he came to the St. Louis are to serve in urban parishes in East St. Louis and North St. Louis. In 2011, he returned to Belize, serving as the pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Belize City.

His time in both St. Louis and Belize City has helped him draw connections between the two, and what more could be done to help people in both places.

“In Belize and in St. Louis, the church can’t do it by itself,” Ruhl said on Wednesday’s “St. Louis on the Air.” “The Jesuits can’t do it by itself. The neighborhoods can’t do it by itself. Everybody has to be looking in the same direction. Businesses, churches, governments, they all have to be looking in the same direction. There’s a city-wide collaboration, that’s the only way.”

Ruhl has worked with Saint Louis University’s Belize Project, which sends people from St. Louis to Belize to help improve education there. Part of the project is to study what is being done to help victims of violence and poverty there in order to bring that information back to St. Louis to help people with similar issues. Counseling for post-traumatic stress is one such solution.

Ruhl said that although there are issues in St. Louis, Belize has it far worse.

"Americans are looking at this whole ISIS issue and seeing how rough and brutish and nasty they are, but I'm here to tell you that the cartels are the Central and South American ISIS."

“I worked in East St. Louis and I worked in North St. Louis, and I’m here to tell you that the south side of Belize City is worse,” Ruhl said. “My entire time here, I maybe buried one or two murdered individuals. Down there, I bury a murdered individual once a month.”

Poverty, but even more so, drug cartels are to blame.

“Americans are looking at this whole ISIS issue and seeing how rough and brutish and nasty they are, but I’m here to tell you that the cartels are the Central and South American ISIS. They are a brutal and savage industry. And that has played out from the heads of government, down to street level.”

Listen to Ruhl discuss other roots of issues in Belize here:

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.