by Desmond O'Grady
in Santiago, Chile "IT'S terrible that the Pope will meet youth in the National Stadium, the symbol of the regime's killings, torture and brutality" said Edstrella Parada when I interviewed her in Santiago on the eve of John Paul's arrival on April 2.
The National Stadium was used as a concentration camp after the military junta seized power and it is estimated 70 of the people held there were killed.
Two years ago Edstrella's husband, psychologist Jose Parada, was found beheaded as were two companions, near Santiago airport. Edstrella Parada, who was one month pregnant with their fourth child when her husband was picked up by a "death squad", added that John Paul's trip would only be worthwhile if he saw the real Chile and backed the Chilean Church's struggle for human rights.
However, she expressed the reservation some Chileans feel about John Paul coming as a Head of State, and hence as a guest of the military government as well as the Episcopal Conference.
Although the Episcopal Conference has recently issued a pastoral letter critical of the regime's human rights abuses, the government's SecretaryGeneral, 32-year-old Francisco Saviour Cuardra is a member of the Opus Dei organisation.
Cuarda is considered Pinochet's right-hand man and the brains of the regime. Bishop Sergio Navia, spokesman for the Chilean Episcopal Conference, has given an interview saying unless there is evolution beyond the present political situation, there will be growing violence. Bishop Thomas Gonzalez of Pentarenas created a stir with an
interview to the Italian communist daily, L'Unita. L'Unita reported him as saying that the Pinochet regime is based on "growing violence" and the first step towards democracy would be to "humanise the military".
He further said that Cardinal Francisco Fresno has fine human qualities, but was appointed under pressure from the regime because he was a mediator.
The Vatican's nuncio in Santiago protested against this alleged "insult" to Cardinal Fresno, and Bishop Gonzalez claimed that the interview had been off the record.
It will be hard to counterbalance the images of John Paul clasping Pinochet's blood-stained hand, but Carmen Quintana may achieve it. Last year Carmen was filming a documentary against the dictatorship when police doused her with petrol and set fire to her.
The Episcopal Conference brought her from Canada to meet John Paul when he visits a hospital Friday morning. The regime countered by asking a woman, Nora Bargas, burnt by a terrorist bomb, to meet John Paul at the same time, but she refused to be present with Carmen, who she called a terrorist.
John Paul's Chilean visit was preceded by a recorded television message which stressed that it was pastoral, and that he came as a messenger of "life, love, reconciliation and peace". Cardinal Fresno also gave a television interview in which he asked Chileans to set aside "all rancour, piejudice, egoism and hate".