Page 4, 16th July 1965

16th July 1965
Page 4
Page 4, 16th July 1965 — PRESIDENT FREI OF CHILE is in London on a State
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PRESIDENT FREI OF CHILE is in London on a State

visit. In the article below, FR. GERALD MAHON, Superior-General of the Mill Hill Missionaries, analyses the problems which face him and the Church in that country. The Mill Hill Missionaries are this year taking up missionary work in the Archdiocese of Santiago. Fr. Mahon went there last May to prepare for the project.

Where greatest need meets the greatest hope

"South America does not need priests: it needs Apostles."

Pope John's words flashed through my mind as I walked through one of the wooden "shanty towns" in an outlying parish of Santiago. On a street wall a crudely drawn hammer and sickle was a reminder of the threat of Communism from which Chile was saved last September by the election of Eduardo Frei as President.

The crowd of cheerful children chattering round us were an index of the vast influx of families from the rural areas which is increasing Santiago's two and three quarter million people by twenty thousand a month.

"We have 80,000 people in the parish—all baptised catholics," my Maryknoll priest guide told me, "and there are only three of us to look after them." I recalled the beautiful new Mormon temple I had seen the previous day and thought ruefully of the • Protestant sects from North America pouring men and

into nto Latin America to exploit the situation of a nominally Catholic people tragically short of priests.

The Church in Chile faces two related problems: The threat of Communism resulting from

Chile's socio-economic situation; and the danger of apostasy to indifferentism or extreme protestantism due to the shortage of clergy.

Of Chile's seven million population nearly three million live in greater Santiago, and it is here that the problem is most urgent. Over ninety per cent. of the population does not go to Church: parishes with 25.000 people have only one priest—and he may be old.

Vocations are few—this year in all the dioceses and religions orders in Chile I was told that there are only seventeen new priests to be ordained.

This is a situation which may fairly be called missionary, where the Church cannot supply its own needs but turns for help to the universal Church. And it was for this reason Pope John issued his urgent appeal for help for South America, an appeal that has been answered by missionary societies and Dioceses throughout Europe and America.

For the Mill Hill Fathers there is a special attraction to South America: a hundred years ago Father (later Cardinal) Herbert Vaughan travelled by sea and on horseback from Panama to Lima, from Lima to Santiago and Valparaiso, round Cape Horn to Buenos Aires and Ria on an incredible begging journey to raise funds for his new Missionary Colfege.

On my desk as I write is the small red leather notebook he carried with him in which he entered the gifts he received: "The Archbishop of Santiago, two hundred dollars" is one entry!

The wheel has turned full circle now and the Society which those 200 dollars help to found hopes to repay them with interest!

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Chile today is not its desperate need of help, but the dramatic response to that need by Bishops, clergy and laity. In the face of a critical situation the Bishops of Chile evolved an integrated "Pastoral Plan" for the whole country based on carefully prepared socio-religious surveys.

The plan was published in March 1962 and is intended to give a new life and direction to apostolic endeavour throughout the country. The plan recognises that the Church in Chile is in a "state of mission" and is not an "established Christian regime".

It stresses the need for priests to concentrate on direct apostolic work and to surrender more responsibility to laymen. (Teamwork with lay groups and with nuns was one of the features of the "Grand Mission" that lasted throughout 1963, and covered 160 parishes. Laymen received permanent appointments as lay preachers and instructors.) To implement the plan a variety of vital organisations were set up including a pastoral institute, a religious sociology office, a technical planning office and special departments for education, social assistance, lay apostolate and communication media.

The Plan recognises particularly the need to reach adult men and train them as militants and to penetrate family groups and parishes.

I remember a young priest in Valparaiso leaving me to attend a family group meeting in his hillside parish at 10.30 in the evening. He told me he attended a number of such meetings, every week at this time because the whoie family would he home by then.

I saw the evidence of the vital response of the Church in Chile to the problems of the day when I visited the parish of "Jesus Obrero"—Jesus the Worker -in one of the poorer districts of Santiago. This parish was the centre of activity of Fr. Hurtado who. between 1932 and his death twenty years later, did more than anyone else to awaken the social conscience of the Church in eh ile.

It was Fr. Hurtado who encouraged the young Eduardo Frei to enter politics and demonstrate that there was another answer besides Communism to the problems of Chile and.of all Latin America.

President Frei is this week paying a state visit to England and if his speeches in Rome are any criterion he will be very frank with regard to the need for social justice in the world. He speaks the language of the papal encyclicals and intends to apply them to the reform of the social structure of Chile.

One morning I visited the , "Hogar de Christo", the establishment Fr. Hurtado founded to deal with the homeless and jobless adults and the orphans and abandoned children who crowded the parish.

Here there was a reception centre offering food and shelter for a few weeks while the newcomer sought a job. Beside it was an orphanage—not an "institution" but a family home for ten to twenty children of different ages under the care of a house father and house mother.

. When we visited them they had just finished dinner and they rushed out into the courtyard and soon were singing songs as one of them strummed a guitar: His hero was "Elvi Preili" (Chileans have difficulty with the letter "s" . .) These orphans go to school nearby and are found jobs or taught trades in local workshops, some of them directed by the Hogar de Christ° movement.

In one of these workshops nearby, I found some four hundred young men--half of them from the orphanages — busily making pre-fabricated wooden houses to be sent to the earthquake devastated area some forty miles to the North.

The houses had been designed by a young Jesuit priest Fr. van den Nes as an answer to the accommodation problem and cost between £70 and £140. "In the mild Mediterranean climate of central Chile," he explained to me, "a wooden house is quite adequate protection against the weather.

"And I have proved that they are the answer to our housing problem. We now have five factories turning out ten thousand a month. The government has sent us soldiers to help increase the number to meet the needs of the earthquake zone."

Fr. van den Nes is typical of the priests working in Chile today. They are infected by a sense of urgency and at the same time hopeful for the future.

Their number is increasing; in Cardinal Archbishop Henriquez Raoul Silva, bishops, priests and people recognise a man who has understood the needs of the time —as he demonstrated by giving up Church lands in Santiago to contribute to the agrarian reform movement.

And the success of the Christian Democrat Party in the Presi

dential and local elections promised a period of stability in which the Pastoral Plan can be pursued most effectively.

Fr. Vekemans, S.J., the Belgian Jesuit who is in overall charge of the Centre for Economic and Social Development in Latin America and a key figure in implementing the Pastoral Plan, considers Chile the index of Latin America's future.

"Santiago," he explained to me one evening, "is the Geneva of Latin America, its international centre. Effort expended here will affect not only Chile, but the whole of the Latin American Continent."

The evening before I left Santiago I drove with the Vicar General Mgr. Gabriel Larrain to the top of the hill which rises nearly a thousand feet above the city. Below us the sun shone on the warm stone of public buildings, churches and crowded houses.

Far away on the outskirts we could make out the "barrios", the mushrooming slums. "Two and three quarter million people," he said. "I hope you're going to come and help us look after them.

-Chileans like foreigners-we're not nationalistic—and we feel particularly close to Europe. That is where all our cultural ties are. If you're looking for the area of greatest need you can go

anywhere in Latin America. "But if you want the point of greatest hope, come to Chile."




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