Pope Speaks to Students and Slum Dwellers Amid Violent Protests
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ Pope John Paul II told 80,000 youths who packed an open-air stadium Thursday night their faith could transform society. Student orators departed from their texts to denounce the right-wing regime and what one called its ″culture of death.″
Earlier, slum dwellers thronged to welcome the pontiff but stoned the police who escorted him. Some shared his podium to accuse Chile’s military regime of torture, murder and causing their poverty.
The pope told a conference of bishops that he hopes for a quick return of democracy to Chile. And he spent nearly 45 minutes with President Augusto Pinochet, who the pontiff has said runs a dictatorial government. Vatican sources described the meeting as courteous but would not reveal details.
Three students departed from prepared texts in the rally at the same stadium where authorities had held thousands of leftists - and tortured and killed many - after Pinochet seized power in a 1973 coup.
″We are desperate and repressed,″ said student Filamir Landeros. The pope listened intently and the stadium filled with cheers and applause.
Landeros complained of living in a country ″where they impose on us a culture of death.″ It was a twist on Pinochet’s own welcoming statement to the pope on Wednesday, when the ruler described the threat of communism as a ″culture of death.″
John Paul told the youths that if they led lives ″rooted in faith and the love of Jesus Christ, you will be capable of transforming society, of constructing a more humane, more brotherly and more Christian Chile.″
″Now, in this stadium, a place of sporting events, but also of pain and suffering in past eras, I want to repeat to young Chileans: assume your responsibilities.″
The national police said Thursday night that since the pope’s arrival Wednesday, 42 police had been injured, one seriously, in clashes with ″delinquents who do not understand the meaning of the papal visit.″
The police statement did not mention civilian casualties.
Protesters smashed all the windows of two police buses that led the pope on a crisp, brilliant autumn morning to the squalid La Bandera slum, whose 90,000 people are plagued by drug addiction, prostitution and grinding poverty.
Helmeted riot police used their shields to push the crowds back. Witnesses reported seeing several people who appeared to be injured.
The scene was repeated when John Paul left and police fired tear gas into the stone-throwing crowds.
For reasons that were not clear, the local church erected a backdrop on the makeshift stage that depicted wooden shacks but hid the real ones.
People chosen by Roman Catholic priests were brought to the pope’s side and spoke out against Pinochet’s government to a crowd of several hundred thousand.
University radio and television stations carried the denunciations, but government television cut the sound during that portion of John Paul’s appearance and substituted background music.
The pontiff nodded solemnly as Luisa Riveros, who is missing several front teeth, complained of ″no money, terrible housing and having to get up at 5 in the morning to get a place in line at the (government) health clinic.″
″We want a dignified life, but without dictatorship,″ she said, and asked papal intercession for political prisoners, ″including 14 facing the death penalty.″
John Paul rose from his chair, which was sheltered from the sun by an umbrella, and embraced her.
A young woman named Ximena Cornejo said: ″We lack the freedom to participate and express ourselves. When we do, we are repressed and beaten. Many young people have been arrested or sent into internal exile, or have been tortured, burned, exiled and even killed.″
People in the audience shouted ″Bravo 3/8″ with each denunciation. Some held banners that said ″Pope, they torture and kill here″ and ″Pilgrim pope, excommunicate the assassin.″
″I have listened to you with much attention, and my spirit is deeply moved,″ the pope said. He urged the faithful to ″use all means within your power to banish from your country all the causes of unjust poverty.″
He cautioned them, however, to ″avoid the temptation to identify yourselves with political parties or positions″ and said the church must ″always maintain a clear ecclesiastical identity.″
John Paul was given a Bible that had belonged to Andre Jarlan, a French priest who worked in the Santiago slums and was killed by police in 1984.
To the bishops in Santiago, the pope said: ″We would like to see quickly carried out in Chile measures that in a not-too-distant future make possible the full and responsible participation of the citizenry in the great decisions which affect the life of the nation. The well-being of the country urges that such steps be taken ... so they can be instruments for social peace in a Christian country.″
He urged them to work ″with all your forces to reject and avoid the violence and the hate in Chile. Don’t hesitate to defend always and before everyone the legitimate rights of the person, created in the image and likeness of God.″
On a side-trip Thursday afternoon to the port of Valparaiso, the pontiff exhorted 400,000 people: ″Don’t let yourselves be invaded by the contagious cancer of divorce.″
In northern Santiago, police and soldiers fired into the air and made arrests when about 300 homeless people who timed their action with the pope’s visit tried to seize a tract of open land. No injuries were reported, but a spokesman for the group claimed 15 people were hurt by rubber bullets during a similar effort the night before.
Eighty percent of Chile’s 12 million people are Catholic. Church leaders in Chile have been among Pinochet’s most persistent critics.
John Paul’s six-day visit is his first to Chile. His tour of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina ends April 12.