“The Pope’s Worst Nightmare”: Chapter 2 of ‘The Pope, His Chamberlain, the Jinetera & Fidel’

Protestors against the Pinochet regime during the Mass of John Paul II in Chile’s main soccer stadium


This is one of the chapters with firm grounding in reality. The pope’s nightmare is based on the report of what happened during his 1987 trip to Chile. In their biography (His Holiness: John Paul and the hidden history of our time) Carl Bernstein and Marco Politi described the papal Mass in the national soccer stadium as follows:

Pinochet staged a massive intervention using armored cars, jeeps, policemen with nightsticks and shields, water cannons, and tear gas to combat 700 demonstrators shouting slogans against the dictatorship and throwing stones at police stationed o the edge of the park. The demonstrators, who belonged to the extreme left-wing party Mir and to organizations of young dissidents allied with the Chilean Communist Party, were a tiny fraction of the 700,000 worshipers present at the mass. But the general wanted to make a point. Police charged demonstrators who were burning tires to shield themselves and crashed through the crowd of the faithful. Beneath the altar where the pope was celebrating mass, soldiers in jeeps cut circular swaths. Journalists, pilgrims, and priests who tried to block them were run over and injured. The tear gas fumes even reached the altar, where John Paul II, his eyes red and his throat burning, skipped whole sections of his homily on reconciliation, while his personal physician gave him water and salt to fight off the poisonous air.

“Love is stronger than hate!” shouoted John Paul II, while around him thousands of fear-stricken spectators cried out, “Save the pope!” Six hundred people were injured. All the political parties, including the socialists and Communists, denounced the actions of the security forces, calling their response a provocation. Cardinal Fresno and the president of the Chilean bishops conference, however, issued a communique identifying the police as the chief victims and blaming the demonstrators. It said the demonstrators had tried to prevent those in attendance from expressing their beliefs and had offended the pope. “We protest against this incredible assault, which meant blows and wounds to carabineros, papal guards, journalists, priests, and the faithful.” Not a word was said about police brutality, which had been witnessed by the entire international press corps.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

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