John Paul II's visit to Chile April 1-6, 1987, had a broader purpose,
of course, than to tackle human rights issues. But already on the
flight to South America, on March 31 he asserted that working for
justice and human rights was an essential part of the Church's mission.
He rejected the position of political figures like [President Augusto]
Pinochet who tell bishops that they should spend all their time
praying, and stay out of politics.
When he preached to the Chilean bishops two days later, he told
them: "Never hesitate to defend always, before all, the legitimate
rights of the person, created in the image and likeness of God.
Proclaim your preferential love for the poor...." He defended
the Church's right "to pass moral judgment even in political
matters" and expressed hope the country would soon become more
Preaching a gospel of unity rather than one that would lock groups
into permanent confrontation, the pope insisted repeatedly on reconciliation
and nonviolence. He brought this message to an enormous youth meeting
held in the Nahonal Stadium, an infamous place of torture, death
and detention for thousands of Chileans after the 1973 coup. Without
ignoring the "sadness" of the place and carefully urging
the youth "not to remain indifferent in the face of injustice,"
he left them with an important caution: "Do not let yourself
be seduced by violence and the thousand reasons which appear to
justify it." The Church rejects "all ideologies which
proclaim violence and hate as means to obtain justice."
The papal visit gave a welcome boost to the human rights movement
in Chile, according to most observers. For the first time since
the dictatorship began, massive crowds of Chileans could assemble
without being dispersed.
The Catholic Church, as a key defender of human rights, together
with the opposition parties and others working for the return to
democracy, found themselves affirmed by the pope’s visit. In his
speech to the bishops, the pope shared his hope that “in the near
future” it would be “possible for each citizen to have a full and
responsible role in the making of important decisions that touch
on the life of the entire nation.” With statements like these, along
with other symbolic gestures, Pope John Paul II was opening doors
toward greater democracy and the end of military rule.