Argentine challenge for Pope's mission
by Jonathan Petre
ON THE eve of the Pope's viist to Argentina, which begins today, the bishops of England and Wales have sent a telegram to Cardinal Juan Carlos Aramburu, leader of the Church in Argentina, expressing grief at the deaths in the Falklands conflict and praying for peace.
The telegram said: "On the occasion of the Holy Father's visit to our countries, we, the Bishops of England and Wales, extend to our brother bishops of Argentina, the assurance of our heartfelt ra ers for •eace and reconciliation, We grieve for those who have died, for the wounded and bereaved. We join with the Holy Father in praying that the God of peace will move men's hearts to put aside weapons of death and pursue the path of fraternal dialogue."
The bishops also issued an appeal for prayers to their own flock: "We the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, urge our people to pray fervently for Pope John Paul as he sets out once more on his mission for world peace and a just settlement of the conflict in the South Atlantic. We share his deep anxiety and concern."
Pope John Paul today begins a two day visit to Argentina against the background of the Falkland conflict.
Although many believe that the visit will be the most difficult the Pope has yet had to face, the signs seem to suggest that initial Argentinian anger at the Pope's visit to Britain is beginning to abate.
The Pope is to arrive in Argentina early this morning at Buenos Aires airport. He then travelled to the apostolic nunciature for a meeting with the Argentinian bishops and bishops representing other Latin American countries.
In the afternoon the Pope is scheduled to travel 36 miles by motorcade to the Marian shrine at Luian to celebrate Mass at 5pm. Tomorrow, he is scheduled to celebrate an outdoor Mass in the morning at the monument to the Spaniards, located in Palermo Park in Buenos Aires. He then returns to Rome.
Lujan is a traditional place of pilgrimage and in recent years thousands of young people have joined pilgrims from Buenos Aires in prayers for peace at the shrine.
Argentina released 128 political prisoners this week in preparation for the visit. Some are known to be among the desaparecidos — those who disappeared during the government-backed action against suspected guerillas after 1976.
The Pope's support will be sought not only by the government but also by those who are campaigning for the naming and release of those detained without trial.
The Pope is due to call, in a private capacity, upon General Galtieri, as head of state at the
Helping to soften the initial Argentinian reaction to the Pope's British visit was a series of statements in the past week by Catholic Bishops, and the attitude adopted by Argentine government officials that the Pope's visit to Britain was pastoral and not meant to provide political support.
The Catholic bishops, whose influence extends over more than 90 per cent of the population of 28 million have also been concerned to stress the positive aspects of the Pope's British visit.
Bishop Manuel Menendez of San Martin, said "never before has a Pope gone to a country at war to help it pray for peace." And referring to a letter sent by the Pope to Argentina explaining the pastoral nature of his British visit, Bishop Menedez added: "Never has a Pope sent a letter to a nation to explain his acts."
Fears have been expressed in Rome that the Argentinian military jtinta, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, may attempt to exploit the Pope's visit for political ends.
But the Catholic hierarchy has been issuing daily announcements stressing the non-political nature of the visit.
Nevertheless, as in Britain, one of the keynotes of the visit will be peace, and the Pope may well stress the message he gave to those gathered at Coventry, that "war should belong to the tragic past."
The Pope will not visit neighbouring Chile in the near future because of the unresolved dispute over the Beagle Channel, according to Cardinal Raul Silva of Santiago.