In December 1978 a mass grave was discovered in a quarry near Lonquen, Chile. Eventually it was determined that the fifteen bodies were those of persons on the Roman Catholic Church's list of 600 "disappeared" persons - political prisoners and dissidents.
For months all legal and political, public and private means were tried to have the government acknowledge the identity of the bodies and release the remains to grieving relatives for Christian burial.
Hunger strikes by relatives, bishops, priests and nuns were finally called off on September 11th when a military court ordered the return, to their families, of the remains of the Lonquen victims.
Yesterday a telex was received in Toronto from the Archbishop of Santiago, Silva Enriquez, who said that he was forced to make a "public declaration" because of the "cruel and inconceivable situation related to the Lonquen victims."
In view of the court's decision, the Director of the second military "fiscal" gave his assurance that the remains could be claimed on September 13th. Based on that assurance and at the request of the families, a funeral mass for all the victims was scheduled on the afternoon of September 14th.
Permission to hold that mass was not given by the government. Then, to quote Archbishop Silva Enriquez, "it was with stupor and consternation that we received the news that the remains had already been buried by officials of the medico-legal institute, without any prior consultation...in a common grave. With these happenings, the culminating point of the innumerable sufferings of the families over the years has been reached."
He continued, "The Church of Santiago can do no less than raise its voice and energetically denounce this situation of insensitivity and inhumanity to the suffering of our neighbour. Once more the Church of Santiago has not been listened to. It feels offended in its mission to sustain human dignity which it holds sacred. It suffers also from this new blow to the sensitivity of those who love their country and who wish paths of respect and justice to lead them to a fraternal life together.
Sharing the pain of the people concerned, and on their behalf, we have decided to hold a funeral mass in our Cathedral Church at 11:00 am on the 15th of September.
Together we shall pray for these families, for the painful hour which they are living, that God give them the gift of strength.
We shall also pray for our conversion and for that of those responsible for these happenings so that they might never repeat themselves. We shall pray, finally, for the eternal rest of those who have not been able to obtain a formal funeral by which the Church honours the dead."
- 30 -
For further information, please contact:
Ms. Francis Arbour
Inter-Church Committee on Human Rights in Latin America (ICCHRLA)