Invitation to mission in Chile. Reflections No.2

19th August 2017 - by Nathalie Marytsch


A museum of horror or a park of peace? This is the question, Shari Brown from Birmingham, starts her reflections with as the group continues its journey in Chile.

A museum of horror or a park of peace? Such was the question Chileans faced when they came together to discuss how to remember Villa Grimaldi. Today we visited this site of detention and torture during Pinochet’s rule and learnt about the horrors that took place there. Yet the lavender at the entrance, numerous trees and birds singing were testimony to the decision to create a park of peace – a place of memory focusing foremost on the survival and resilience of humanity.

The rose garden particularly moved me as wooden ‘roses’ among the real roses bore the name of women who were executed or disappeared. The enscribed words of Gabriela Mistral, famous poet of Chile, reminded us that “We were all to be Queens” (or Kings if men) so affirming life rather than death.
From there we went through the wealthy area of Santiago viewing the big homes, cultural tourist hub (lunch of Empanadas was good!) and then the business district of embassies, banks and tall buildings of commerce.
The contrast was therefore all the greater when we travelled outwards to the periphery of the city for our evening programme. Plaza de Puente Alto is at the end of the metro line and in 20 years has grown from approximately 100,000 to 600,000 people. The growth has been deliberate government policy as a result of ‘cleansing’ the centre of the city of poorer districts. The people have been forcibly removed to the outskirts where housing and services are inadequate and job opportunities are few.
Yet it was a church community in this deprived neighbourhood who received and hosted us. The welcome was warm – we were smothered with kisses, greetings of welcome, food and more food! Mass included a Gospel reading on forgiveness, which in the context of the morning’s visit was an apt challenge.
Traditional folk dancers performed after the service, and we headed home to our respective hosts. Some gave up their bedrooms, all were generous. As a non Spanish speaker, I was grateful for Google translate, but far more so for the kindness shown!