Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Liberation Theology in Salvador Allende's Chile

By Reflexión y Liberación (English translation by Rebel Girl)
September 14, 2014

The Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile was the solemn surroundings where the long awaited book by Yves Carrier, Teología práctica de liberación en el Chile de Salvador Allende ["Practical liberation theology in Salvador Allende's Chile"], Ceibo Ediciones, was presented.

In a room overflowing with more than 400 attendees, FEUC president Naschla Aburman acted as emcee and moderator, expressing thanks for the crowded audience and particularly the presence of Mrs. Ángela Jeria, mother of President Michelle Bachelet, as well as the rector of the University of Chile, Don Ennio Vivaldi.

The event began with the distinguished human rights advocate, attorney Fabiola Letelier del Solar who, in the name of the editorial board of the journal Reflexión y Liberación, expressed joy at seeing concluded this cherished initiative which had been suggested to us by missionary Guy Boulanger, OMI and follows the editorial line our publication has had for 25 years, based on the Gospel, social justice, Vatican II and liberation theology.

Mónica Echeverría and priests José Aldunate and Mariano Puga were in charge of the book's presentation.


Writer, professor, actress and playwright Mónica Echeverría began by indicating that her husband, Fernando Castillo Velasco, should have been in her place, since, as the former rector of the Catholic university, he was a leader and ideologue in university reform in the late 1970s, someone who embraced the cause and consequences of liberation theology in his life.

In her presentation, she went back to the 1970s, recalling that the Church was beginning to experience a deep crisis as a result of its lack of openness to the world. She indicated the origins of that crisis in the assimilation of imperial power which was the sad heritage of Constantine's conversion to the Church. She pointed out the pageantry and the distorted image of a punishing God as "means of manipulation to make the poor submit." She stressed that there were historical voices who denounced such abuses, until the appearance of Marx eventually snatched the poor from the Church, who, she said, became agents of history. She highlighted significant Christians figures like Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacques Maritain, Manuel Larraín, Saint Alberto Hurtado and Clotario Blest, stressing that "they were beacons of hope for the poor." Following the historical tour, she continued with the good Pope John XXIII, highlighting his refusal to be bourgeois.

In that context, she presented Yves Carrier's book as a testimony to that liberating Church that seeks to serve the poor, noting that Chile was chosen to live out that experiment, specifically in Chuquicamata. She recalled a phrase of the late Dutch priest [Jan] Caminada that contains the spirit of this initiative: "We must not be divided in the struggle but walk together."

She criticized the silence and persecution imposed by Pope John Paul II on liberation theology and ended by highlighting the figure of Pope Francis as a great sign of hope for the Church and all humankind.

She was followed by José Aldunate who was applauded repeatedly. It was surprising to note his clarity and firmness, that at 97, he is testimony to evangelical passion. He gave his entire address standing.

Pepe spoke as a leader in Caminada's experiment, indicating that the goal of that adventure was seeking answers to basic questions such as: "What will become of the human race? What is the Church doing about the situation of the poor? How can the Church be modernized? How do we get it out of its buildings and worship services? How do we get it out into the street?"

Anecdotally, he said that Caminada was strict, severe, and that only Mariano Puga, with a joke or a gesture, was able to master him. He shared that Caminada, upon returning from a long mission in Indochina, came to his country, Holland, and found it tied to the past and found a Church trapped in a doctrinairism that wasn't attune to the present and was suspicious of all Socialism. He became persuaded that the way was praxis, since reality was above doctrine. He devised a strategy and came to Chile to test his hypothesis. That was how "we formed a group of Chileans and foreigners, among them Mariano, Rafael Maroto, and myself. It was a group that relinquished its bourgeois status."

The method had several steps: getting away from doctrinalism, insertion into the real world, acting out a new basic praxis, and dialoging with the bishops. He shared freely that "that was the most difficult. That dialogue had serious problems. Many bishops were afraid. We told them the Church had to make policy. We wanted to make God's dream come true: a united, egalitarian and fraternal community. That calls for policy, praxis aimed at the reality of the country." He serenely shared private details such as when "the bishops told us they didn't want us in Chile. The bishops rejected us." And he talked about how "the bishop of Calama, Don Juan Luis Ysern stood up for us until, finally, it was Pinochet with the coup who settled everything, throwing Caminada and his whole gang out. Only us five Chileans remained: Rafael Maroto, José Correa, Mariano, Chavo Fuster and me." And he said: "A branch could blossom. We five Chileans Got organized and formed a little group named EMO ("equipo misionero obrero" -- "worker missionary team"). Then we were 40 and then, 70. We continued to practice Caminada's method. We were able to fulfill Caminada's dream. Maroto was a shopkeeper, Pepe Correa a carpenter, Mariano a painter, and I worked in construction. We managed to open the Church to the left. So the distance between us and the Communists and Socialists came to an end, and there were no longer mutual insults but fraternal collaboration."

Pepe acknowledged joyfully, "We achieved something, moved forward. There was still fire under the ashes so that a Church committed to change in the world could emerge, committed to God's dream -- being a united, solidary and fraternal society."

With those words, Pepe ended his presentation, followed by a lengthy and warm ovation.

When Mariano Puga's turn came, he began by sharing his feelings: "I am coming to a unique point in my life, my history, my Church, my people." He read two Gospel passages -- with Luke, he proclaimed the text where Jesus makes the book of Isaiah his own: "...he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor..." (Lk 4:18-21) and the text from the Book of Acts where Luke describes the life of the early Christian communities: "...[they] were united, shared what they had, sold their goods and property and then distributed the money among all according to their needs...and they were esteemed by all..." (Acts 2:42-47).

With the reading of the Gospel, the assembly welcomed with respect and sanctity the emotion of Mariano, who took the floor again with the force of a prophet saying, "this is letter of introduction of the people's Church," and he added, "the greatest scandal is that the poor, the excluded, the marginalized don't feel at home in their Church. They don't feel that their hopes, their martyrdom resonates. There's an estrangement between the Church of Jesus and the Catholic Church." And, with emotion, he added: "This is our challenge, for those of us who think we are faithful to Jesus of Nazareth. That is impossible without being faithful to the poor, to their struggles and hopes." He shared that "what was most valuable about Calama was this: creating a new humanity in God's style, inseparable from the poor and the excluded."

Coming back to the present, he stated that "we are in a historic moment, with Pope Francis who says 'I want a poor Church for the poor' and invites Gustavo Gutierrez to dinner" -- and spontaneous applause broke out that filled the Great Hall of the PUC.

Then Mariano stated sorrowfully that "admiring without imitating is hypocrisy." And he added, "calling myself a disciple of Jesus, being a member of a Church that makes the hopes and anguish of the people its own -- which is its dogmatic constitution. We belonged to that mafia of the Holy Spirit that works in the heart of humanity. In that experiment there was room for priests, colleagues and workers."


Then Mariano returned to the story, saying that on August 15, 1973, the bishop of Calama told that group that the bishops didn't want them and he asked them to stop and leave. Mariano went to Santiago, and he said that on September 11, 1973 he got together with Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, Sergio Contreras Navia, José Manuel Santos Ascarza and Carlos González Cruchaga, who expressed their support for the Calama experiment, at which statement the assembly erupted in applause full of gratitude that inundated the Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University, a testimony of gratitude towards those dear bishops and this beloved Church.

So the presentations concluded. Then there was an opportunity to share testimonies, beginning with that of Karina Delfino, president of Socialist youth. Don Ennio Vivaldi, rector of the University of Chile, followed, and in brief words, called for spiritual revival and recovering the great ideals, recalling times when citizens were mobilized for big social projects. He did this by highlighting the political figure of Salvador Allende. The last testimony was given by Jacques Chonchol, former minister of agriculture under Salvador Allende, who masterfully gave a synthesis of the history and evolution of the Mapuche conflict.

The presentation ended with a song to pay tribute to Pepe Aldunate and Mónica Echeverría's birthdays, followed by a simple reception where there was a chance to socialize with the numerous attendees, as well as with many men and women committed to the many liberating causes of the Chilean and Latin American people.

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