As we complete this week of our fraternal visit to the Church in Chile, we wish to communicate some part of our impressions and our thoughts.
I. Overview of Visit
Thanks to the care and planning of our hosts, the Episcopal Conference of Chile, we were able to experience a very full and rich week of meetings and visits. We have met with our brother bishops of the Permanent Committee and the Pastoral Commission, with the episcopal vicars of Santiago, and with the bishops of the other dioceses -- Concepcion, Valdivia, and Valparaiso -- that various of us were able to visit.
We have had extended discussions with priests, religious and lay workers in all these dioceses, with the vicariates of workers pastoral, of solidarity and human rights, and of rural and youth pastorals. We have met with directors of social communications, with parish social action coordinators, with catechetical specialists and with the national commission of justice and peace. We have visited seminaries and faculties of Catholic universities. We have participated in a ceremony in the Cathedral of Santiago and have been privileged to make presentations to groups in Valparaiso as well as in Santiago.
We have seen with our own eyes the concrete application of the Gospel and the Church's option for the poor in our several visits to poblaciones. We have visited parish polyclinics and small factories and local centers of pastoral reflection.
We spent a joyous and emotional Thanksgiving Day with a hundred of our fellow citizens who work in the Church in Chile. And we were warmly received by His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio as well as by His Excellency the Ambassador of the United States.
II. Some Impressions
A week of visits and meetings, however intense, is still only a week, too short a time to achieve any sure knowledge of the complex reality we have been touching. Nevertheless, we do have some strong impressions, repeatedly confirmed and strengthened by the many and varied meetings we experienced.
While we will report to our own bishops' conference in greater detail, we wish here simply to cite some of the dominant impressions and convictions, both negative and positive, that we take with us as we leave Chile.
- On the positive side, we wish to express our strongest possible admiration and respect for the bishops of Chile whose courageous leadership over many years has enabled the whole Church of Chile to play the decisive role it has on behalf of the poor and defenseless. The role of the local churches of Chile in defense of the rights and dignity of the human person is known throughout the world. We were privileged to experience that eminently ecclesial work very directly in Santiago, Concepcion, and Valdivia.
The Church's special option for the poor and its efforts to serve as a voice to those who have no voice is evident also in the suburb programs of the vicariates of workers' pastoral, and in the rural and youth pastorals. The development of lay leadership in the Church, in rural communities lacking full-time pastors is a strongly encouraging sign.
The institutes of catechesis and the excellent catechetical materials produced in Chile are most impressive.
The other media of communication of the Church, especially the radio networks and the publications of the several vicariates are especially notable, given the severe restrictions imposed on the media by the civil authorities.
The increased number of candidates for the priesthood and religious life is a sign of the church's vitality and gives great hope for the future.
Preparations for the much anticipated visit of the Holy Father next April are exceptionally well developed. Particularly inspiring is the catechesis used for the preparation.
Finally, we could not be more pleased with or proud of that sector of the Church in Chile that is made up of our compatriots, the U.S. priests, religious and lay missionaries. They are a magnificent expression of the universality of our Church.
- We must also note our negative impressions and our on-going concerns.
In general, we found that the present mood in Chile is one marked by tension, insecurity, and grave uncertainty about the future.
We heard much of the continuing repression and persecution of various groups and persons; stories of torture were not absent, and most common were the frequently mentioned instances of intimidation and harassment and a generalized sense of fear among many, especially the poor. Such repression generates violence and provokes terrorism.
The expulsion of foreign missionaries for no evident reason and the campaigns of threats and intimidation carried out by unknown persons against certain church offices continues to be a matter of grave concern.
The restrictions imposed on the media are particularly troubling insofar as they close off the access to accurate information so essential to democratic society.
The still vexing problem of exile concerns us, especially as we know of number of Chileans in the United States who yearn to exercise the basic right to live in their own country.
And finally we note with regret the highly divisive role played by certain religious sects from our own country whose aggressive behavior and unecumenical spirit is offensive to many.
Our visit, short but intense, has been for us a marvelous experience of communion with the whole Church of Chile. We have seen, heard and learned much. We will continue to reflect on our experience here, and to act as we are able to, in behalf of our Chilean brothers and sisters.
As we depart, we express our deepest thanks to all the members of the episcopal conference, especially its president, Archbishop Bernardino Pinera, its general secretary, Bishop Sergio Contreras; to the Cardinal Archbishop of Santiago, Juan Francisco Fresno and his episcopal vicars; to the staff of the episcopal conference who prepared such a rich schedule, especially to Victoria Tapia.
We are most grateful as well to the bishops who received us in the other dioceses, Archbishop Francisco de Borja Valenzuela of Valparaiso, Bishop Alejandro Jimenez of Valdivia, and Auxiliary Bishop Alejandro Goic of Concepcion, and indeed to all the men and women religious, priests and laypersons who gave so generously of their time to meet with us.
Finally, we express our special thanks to our hosts, the Maryknoll Fathers and their regional superior, Father Jorge Cambias, and to the Fathers of Holy Cross and their regional superior, Father Roberto Gilbo. Both priests gave unstintingly of their time and services to us as guides, translators and generous hosts.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop of Chicago
Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, Bishop of Galveston-Houston
Bishop Ricardo Ramirez, C.S.B., Bishop of Las Cruces
Santiago, November 29, 1986