The Chilean Church’s Promise of Redemption
From the rise of atheism among young people to mass migration and the pandemic, the challenges facing the Church in Chile are many. The testimonies of the Bishop of La Serena and the Apostolic Vicar of Aisèn in a documentary edited by Father Gaetano Borgo, however, show a strong desire for rebirth, starting from the directives contained in Laudato si’.
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 and narrow strip of land crossed, from north to south, by different histories, cultures and peoples. One of the main objectives pursued by the local clergy is to accompany such a heterogeneous population by helping it to come together in a large Christian family, overcoming diversities and prejudices. Among other things, the Church in Chile has suffered in recent years from an increase in atheism, especially among young people, while the high percentage of those who call themselves Catholics, do not practice their faith and the places of worship are increasingly empty. Already in 2017, Father Gaetano Borgo, now parish priest of Crespano del Grappa in the Italian diocese of Padua, published a report produced on behalf of the city’s diocesan missionary center, highlighting how “the Chilean Church is, however, an extremely lively community that wants to redeem itself, that wants to be among the people and to become a shepherd among the sheep”. How? Through dialogue of course, but also through concrete initiatives that often arise in the wake of Laudato if encyclical. The documentary that recounts this experience of the Chilean Church was made with the help and contribution of the archbishop of the diocese of La Serena, René Osvaldo Rebolledo Salinas, and Bishop Luis Infanti della Mora, Apostolic Vicar of Aisèn.
Four pastoral orientations
In the documentary directed by Fr. Borgo, Archbishop René Osvaldo Rebolledo Salinas illustrated the cornerstones on which the commitment of the Archdiocese of La Serena is based, highlighting a number of principles that are largely reflected in the Pope’s text Francis: the common good, social peace, circular economy and distributive Justice.
At the base of Chilean society, the greatest pillar is represented by the family, the first domestic church. The desire is to rediscover a spirit of solidarity that accompanies families in adversity, in order to achieve a minimum of collective well-being. The second pillar that supports the Archdiocese of La Serena concerns the protection of the dignity of people forced to migrate due to environmental causes, disasters, famine, drought, caused mainly by climate change. The Church in Chile has for years welcomed people mainly from Haiti, Peru and Venezuela, offering them sustenance and prospects for the future. This sense of solidarity is considered a duty that the faithful of the Archdiocese fulfill with energy and optimism. “Immigration is also a wealth from a cultural and religious point of view”, as the documentary by Father Gianluca Roso, Comboni Missionary and former director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Chile, points out. Many volunteers in parishes have committed themselves over the years to teaching Spanish to those arriving in the country, in order 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 vocation ministry since, in just a few years, there has been a drastic decrease in vocations to the point that priests and nuns have become a rarity. In inverse proportion to this, the commitment of the laity increased, so that the diocese intensified its formation activities, instituting courses on biblical and liturgical themes.
The Diocese of La Serena and the care of our common home
The cornerstones of the pastoral action of the Archdiocese of La Serena strongly recall the appeals that Pope Francis made in Laudato si’. Indeed, in the document illustrating the pastoral project of the diocese, there is explicit reference to environmental sustainability, universal solidarity, the commitment to reconciliation with Creation and the vocation to be neither masters nor predators, but trustees of the work of God. “When a person stands in this place called La Paloma,” says Bishop Rebolledo Salinas – 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 if, where everyone is challenged and everyone is invited to act for the good of others, for the good of future generations. So, never have a selfish thought, don’t think only of yourself but also look to the future so that the children of this generation and those who will come after us can take advantage of this great gift that is nature, that the Lord God has made us in all his extraordinary beauty”. With a long-term vision, the Archdiocese has focused its commitment to caring for our Common Home, planning it for future generations, and not just focusing on current emergencies.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Aisén
Bishop Luis Infanti de la Mora, Vicar Apostolic of Aisèn in southern Chile, also presented an overview of the project activities that his community is undertaking in relation to Laudato if after preventing this area of Patagonia from becoming a nuclear waste dump or a territory of massive aluminum production. “I personally wrote 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 have organized many reflection meetings and pastoral days during which we have discussed very concrete environmental issues such as water and energy. In the wake of these meetings, we decided to celebrate some care for the days of Creation, such as the Day of Water and the Environment, and we established the “Day of Creation”, which was then extended to the whole world by Pope Francis”. The Christian community of Aysèn has expanded its outreach efforts for the care of our Common Home by convening the Agora of niños y niñas of 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 domestic economy through the recovery of traditional knowledge, including the therapeutic properties of medicinal plants. In relation to what is stated in Laudato ifthe Christian community of Aysèn has also given life to programs 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 .
Contribute to the new Chilean Constitution
“Beginning with the invitation of Pope Francis contained in Laudato if number 49, says the apostolic vicar, that is to say listen to both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, we have developed our own reflection entitled ‘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 marginalize people. In Chile, the ecological question 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 have focused on the care and management of water as a common good, trying to protect it from private initiative, which here in Chile enjoys great autonomy. Compared to before the pandemic, we have acquired a new awareness of the good relationship that must exist between man and the planet: the Earth has shown us that it can live without us, but we need it to live”.
*Cube Radio – Salesian University Institute Venice and Verona