by Christopher Howse GRANDMOTHER Maria de Mariani is to plead with the Pope this week to gain his help in finding her grand-daughter. Clara, who disappeared in Argentina at the age of three months, when her parents were killed by a paramilitary squad.
On the way to Rome last week she stopped off in England with fellow grandmother Estela de Carlotto to ask Christians here for prayers in support of their search.
Clara, whose parents were killed, would now be five years old.
"'We ask for prayers because we believe in the power of pra‘er. We ask you as a church to communicate with our church." Mrs Mariani said. "If the Pope asks the Argentinian bishops to back our action we will feel really comforted, because the great majority of Argentinians are Catholics and the word of the Church has great weight with the people and the government."
The two women belong to a group. Grandmothers of Plazo de Mayo, which is searching for children who disappeared when their parents were taken or killed in the Argentinian government's undercover action against opponents. Some 400 children, out of 30,000 missing people. have been lost since 1976. In some cases young children disappeared at the same time as their parents: in others, pregnant women were taken away and are presumed to have given birth in prison camps.
According to Mrs Mariani, the grandmothers have been fighting to get an answer from the
Argentinian authorities on the whereabouts of their grandchildren since October 1977. The country's High Court has declared itself incompetent to deal with their petition.
The organisation was formed after the foundation of a similar group, the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo in April 1977, The two bodies are independent in funding and administration.
The Grandmothers succeeded in 1979 in finding two children, brother and sister. who had disappeared with their parents three years before. They had been found in a square in Chile, sent to an orphanage and been adopted by a couple. The children were spotted in a photograph in the journal Clamor by a Chilean social worker.
In another case. two little sisters, Laura and Tatiana Britos had been placed in an orphanage in the county of Buenos Aires under new names. After repeated application to the magistrate responsible, the Grandmothers discovered that they had been registered as abandoned, by the local police.
Mrs Estela Carlotto said that her own daughter had had her baby in a prison camp and had been kilted two months later. She did not know where the baby was.
Mrs Mariani said: "Of the Argentinian bishops, three or four are our friends. and they have been threatened. The rest of the Church there has remained in silence. This is very distressing to us. being Catholics. If people had spoken in time, many lives would have been saved, The Church in Canada. Cardinal Arns in Brazil, and all the countries of Europe have been so very helpful." In Britain, the Grandmothers have received the backing of Amnesty International. the British Council of Churches and the International Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference. The two latter have handed in a request to the Argentine Embassy to respond to the Grandmothers' enquiries.
Mrs Mariani said that she thought the government of Argentina was trying to make out that all those who had disappeared were dead, "We are convinced that many of the missing are being held in camps. but we don't know where."
"We will stake our lives on this search. It is worth it, even if we only find one child. It may seem naive, but we have faith."
The women asked for Masses to be said for the children, for prayers and for letters to the Argentine Embassy and government.