The Chilean Church's promise of redemption
By Lorenzo Marcato - La Serena*
Enclosed on one side by the Andes Mountain range and on the other by the Pacific Ocean, Chile appears as a long, narrow strip of land crossed, from North to South, by different histories, cultures and peoples. Among the main objectives pursued by the local clergy is to accompany such a heterogeneous population helping it to come together as one big Christian family, overcoming diversities and prejudices. Among other things, the Church in Chile has been suffering in recent years from an increase in atheism, especially among young people, while the high percentage of those who say they are Catholics, do not practice their faith and places of worship are more and more empty. Already back in 2017, Father Gaetano Borgo, now the parish priest of Crespano del Grappa in the Italian diocese of Padua, released a reportage produced on behalf of the diocesan missionary centre in the city, highlighting how 'the Chilean Church is, however, an extremely lively community that wants to redeem itself, that wants to be among the people, and become a shepherd among the sheep'. In what way? Through dialogue of course, but also with concrete initiatives that often spring to life in the wake of the Laudato sì encyclical. The documentary that tells of this experience of the Chilean Church was produced with the help and contribution of the Archbishop of the Diocese of La Serena, René Osvaldo Rebolledo Salinas, and by Bishop Luis Infanti della Mora, Apostolic Vicar of Aisèn.
Four pastoral orientations
In the documentary made by Fr. Borgo, Archbishop René Osvaldo Rebolledo Salinas illustrated the cornerstones on which the commitment of the Archdiocese of La Serena is based, emphasising a number of principles that are widely reflected in the text of Pope Francis: the common good, social peace, circular economy and distributive justice.
At the foundation of the Chilean society the greatest pillar is represented by the family, the first domestic church. The desire is to rediscover a united spirit that supports families in adversity, in order to achieve a minimum of collective well-being. The second pillar that sustains the archdiocese of La Serena regards the protection of the dignity of people who are forced to migrate due to environmental causes, disasters, famine, drought, caused mostly by climate change. The Church of Chile has for years welcomed people mainly from Haiti, Peru and Venezuela, offering sustenance and prospects for the future. This sense of solidarity is considered a duty that the faithful of the archdiocese fulfil with energy and optimism. “Immigration is also a wealth from a cultural and religious point of view,” as pointed out in the documentary by Father Gianluca Roso, a Combonian and former director of the Pontifical Missionary Works in Chile. Many volunteers in the parishes have committed themselves over the years to teaching Spanish to those arriving in the country, so as to facilitate integration and job opportunities. Finally, with regard to the fourth pillar of support, the archdiocese of La Serena is involved in an intense pastoral care of vocations since, in just a few years, there has been a drastic decrease in vocations to the extent that priests and nuns have become a rarity. Inversely proportional to this, the commitment of the laity has increased, so the diocese has intensified its training activities, instituting courses on biblical and liturgical topics.
The diocese of La Serena and care for our common home
The cornerstones of the pastoral action of the Archdiocese of La Serena strongly recall the appeals that Pope Francis has disseminated in Laudato si'. Indeed, in the document illustrating the diocese's pastoral plan, explicit reference is made to environmental sustainability, universal solidarity, a commitment to reconciliation with Creation and the vocation to be not masters or predators, but custodians of God's work. “When a person stands in this place called La Paloma,” Archbishop Rebolledo Salinas explains - referring to the lake area in the Coquimbo region - “he cannot help but think of the gift that Pope Francis has given us with Laudato sì, in which each person is challenged and each person is invited to act for the good of others, for the good of future generations. So, never have a selfish thought, do not think only of yourself but look also to the future so that the children of this generation and those who will come after us can enjoy this great gift that is nature, which the Lord God has given us in all its extraordinary beauty”. With a far-sighted outlook, the archdiocese has focused its commitment to caring for our Common Home, projecting it for the future generations, not only focussing on current emergencies.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Aisén
Bishop Luis Infanti de la Mora, Apostolic Vicar of Aisèn in southern Chile, also presented an outline of the project activities his community is undertaking in relation to Laudato sì after preventing this area of Patagonia from becoming a nuclear waste dump or a territory for massive aluminium production. "I personally drafted the pastoral letter Give us today our daily water”, Bishop Infanti della Mora explains, “following a long journey undertaken by the Church of Aysèn, which lasted three years. During this period, we organised numerous reflection meetings and pastoral days in which we discussed very concrete environmental issues such as water and energy. In the wake of these meetings, we decided to celebrate some care for Creation days, such as Water and Environment Day, and we established the 'Creation Day', which was later extended worldwide by Pope Francis”. The Christian community of Aysèn expanded its awareness-raising efforts for the care of our Common Home by convening the Ágora de niños y niñas de la Patagonia in 2019, a meeting that resulted in a Manifesto that highlights, among other things, the issue of environmental sustainability, and the development of a project supported by the German institution Misereor aimed at encouraging home economics through the recovery of traditional knowledge, including the therapeutic properties of medicinal plants. In connection with what is indicated in Laudato sì, the Christian community of Aysèn has also given life to programmes to welcome the many migrants caused by the climate crisis from Haiti, Venezuela and Colombia, providing them with assistance and, in some cases, even housing.
Contributing to the new Chilean Constitution
"Beginning with Pope Francis’ invitation contained in Laudato sì number 49,” the Apostolic Vicar said, “that is, to listen both to the cry of the earth and to the cry of the poor, we have elaborated our own reflection called 'poverty is not accidental' in which we explain how the lack of material and spiritual goods is also the result of social systems that increasingly marginalise people. In Chile, the ecological issue is strongly felt, so we also offered our contribution to the drafting of the new Constitution by proposing topics related to environmental sustainability. In particular, we focused on the care and management of water as a common good, trying to protect it from private initiative, which here in Chile enjoys a great deal of autonomy. Compared to before the pandemic, we have gained a new awareness of the good relationship that should exist between man and the planet: the Earth has shown us that it can live without us, but we need it to live”.