by Jonathan Petre THE CHILEAN Catholic Church last week strongly urged the government to reconcile itself with its critics after national riots last Wednesday left two dead and more than 350 in prison.
Archbishop Juan Francisco Fresno Larrain of La Serena, who recently succeeded Cardinal Raul Silva Henriquez as Archbishop of Santiago, said on Friday that the Church supported "active nonviolence" and "urgent dialogue" in the search for solutions.
"The Church cannot remain indifferent to such large manifestations of the country's social crisis," the Archbishop said.
The riots occurred on a day of what were to have been peaceful protests. They turned out to be the first nationwide demonstrations of discontent in 10 years of military rule.
The government appeared to have ignored the warning from Archbishop Fresno and on Saturday ordered soldiers and police to round up 2,000 people in Santiago, the capital, in a search for militants said to have provoked the demonstrations.
Santiago's military authorities said the search was "to detect and arrest anti-social elements and requisition arms and explosives that are used against innocent citizens." Police eventually arrested more than 130 men, according to a local parish priest.
Cardinal Silva resigned as Archbishop of Santiago on May 6 after 22 years there. He reached the retirement age of 75 last September.
The Cardinal gained an international reputation as a leader of the Chilean people and was an outspoken defender of human rights and the poor. He headed the Church during a particularly volatile political period which saw a Christian Democratic president democratically replaced by a Marxist president who was subsequently overthrown in a bloody coup.
He has been consistent in his criticism of the Pinochet regime since 1973. In October 1976 at Independence Day ceremonies in Santiago's cathedral, Cardinal Silva pleaded for justice and freedom before the assembled military junta.
"Peace is tranquility in order," he said, "but both are impossible to attain without freedom. A nation holding law and order above freedom is not a people, but a mass."
The Cardinal called on the junta to return the country to democratic government. The plea came after numerous international human rights organisations and governments had criticised the Chilean military, accusing it of murdering and torturing political opponents.
Ten months earlier, Cardinal Silva had established the archdiocesan vicariate of Solidarity primarily to aid the politically persecuted, investigate cases of missing persons and press the government for information concerning the missing. He established the vicariate after the junta dissolved the ecumenical committee for peace, which aided prisoners following the 1973 coup.
In 1978, the vicariate received the United Nations Human Rights Prize and Yale University awarded Cardinal Silva an honorary divinity degree for his defence of human rights. At the Yale ceremony, Cardinal Silva said the defence of human rights "is central to evangelisation today."