When I arrived in Santiago de Chile to begin my theological studies at the Catholic Univerity there in early 1970 I suddenly found myself admist a society in great upheaval. The Democratic Presidency of Eduardo Frei was coming to a close and the country was gripped in a very lively political campaign to elect a new President. On September 4th, Salvador Allende Gossens, became the hemisphere's first freely elected Marxist President. The next three years proved to be chaotic for any number of reasons too long to analize here. But the fact is that the country became extremely polarized. Heated discussions about politics became a part of everybody's lives. Families, friends, religious communities, the church became bitterly divided. In September of 1973, Salvador Allende was overthrown in a bloody coupe and General Augusto Pinochet assumed power and would not let go of it for seventeen long years. They were years of oppression, of persecution, of disappearances, and of death.
In 1985, the Chilean Church decided it was time to celebrate a "Year of Reconciliation" to try to heal the many wounds still open and seething. The political right was vehement that a marxist president was in power and blamed all the woes of the country on the left and on the middle-of-the-road politicians for having pathed the way for the election of Allende. And the left was hurting badly under the harsh repression their members suffered after the coupe in which many, including Salvador Allende, lost their lives. Neighbors denounced neighbors for their political beliefs. Thousands disappeared, taken away by the military, never to be seen again. Others fled the country or were sent into exile. Families were destroyed and divided. At the time I was still Rector of St. Gaspar's School, but for several years now I had been on the Archdiocesan team for the Coordination of 45 Catholic Schools in the Eastern Zone of the Archdiocese. And so I was invited to sit on the Coordinating Committee which was preparing the year's activities. I recall one such planning session, when the Vicar General of the Archdiocese looked at me and said: "Barry, you can help us understand what reconciliation means, since you are a Missionary of the Precious Blood!" Well it turned out that throughout the year's activities and during all the reflections and workshops, it became quite clear that we were up against a concept which was not easy to understand and certainly very difficult to achieve! What does reconciliation mean in this context?