VATICAN CITY, APRIL 19, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is part one of a translation of an interview with Benedict XVI’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, gave to L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio and Vatican Television following his April 5-15 trip to Chile.
The cardinal visited the South American nation to encourage those affected by the Feb. 27 earthquake, which devastated much of the country.
Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.
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Q: Many times, eminence, you covered the Pope’s solidarity in this difficult time after the earthquake. Were you able to get a good idea of the gravity of the quake and of the aid that has been given to Chileans?
Cardinal Bertone: Finding ourselves between the two great anniversaries of Pope Benedict XVI — his birthday on April 16 and the fifth anniversary of his election, April 19 — I would first of all like to note the great affection, communion and solidarity of the Chilean people with the Pontiff. I conveyed the Pope’s nearness, “cercanía,” in each meeting that I had on this long trip to Chile. But at the same time, adults, young people, communities of believers, the authorities and the Chilean people manifested a great love for the Pope and asked me to tell him of their affection, their prayer, gratitude, complete solidarity for his mission, his meek, courageous and convincing magisterium.
Unfortunately, I was able to see the gravity of the earthquake and the seaquake, especially around Concepcíon and in the center of the capital of Santiago. The first very moving impression I had was as I was getting off the plane and seeing the ruined bridge, destroyed by the earthquake, which made communications difficult, the damaged street. In the capital the earthquake-resistant buildings survived, even those of the Salesians, while in Concepcíon and the surrounding areas the damage is evident and very grave. They are grave above all because of the destruction of houses, of parts of factories with the subsequent stopping of production. Then I went to a zone that was badly hit, still full of rubble, like Talcahuano, where we inaugurated a chapel as a sign of the will to reconstruction. In that place are very poor and sorely tried people, who asked for the help of prayer and manifested their affection for the Pope. They opened the chapel, I would say, with pride, because they wanted a place of prayer, a place of meeting as one of the first things built after the destruction of the earthquake. This is a very positive sign.
Q: From the reports of the international press about your visit to Chile it appeared that you marveled at the popular religiosity and by the Marian vocation of the Chilean people. What struck you most?
Cardinal Bertone: One sees the signs of popular religiosity everywhere, the shrines dedicated to Mary. What struck me the most is a beautiful Chilean tradition, the tradition of “Quasimodo” in which I took part in the outskirts of Santiago. “Quasimodo” recalls the famous antiphon of the Sunday after Easter, “quasi modo geniti infants.” There is the tradition of taking communion to the sick on the first Sunday after Easter and during the Easter season in general. This time the archbishop of Santiago wanted me to take communion to the parish of Collina. In that area the Blessed Sacrament is carried in a pix on a covered cart that is very old and ornate, stopping at the houses of the sick who want to receive communion. We depart from a chapel — all of the people there were lining the streets to receive the Lord’s bessing, to sing the praises of Jesus present in the Eucharist — escorted by more than 3,000 horsemen wearing garments that resemble those of the priest and carrying the flags of Chile.
Everyone on horse accompanied the priest — in this case the [Vatican] secretary of state — who brought communion to each place and village. The people along the streets knelt to receive the blessing and they all sang, songs to Jesus in the Eucharist and to the Trinity. “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of the universe,” they repeated, and the bells rang. The men riding the horses sang […] “Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,” then we stopped, the people received communion, with the whole family of the sick person there.
When we had finished and reposed the Blessed Sacrament in a chapel, there were still many people on the streets who greeted us on our return to the center of the capital. A beautiful tradition.
Devotion to Mary is also associated with major historical events, such as the winning of independence, because Mary helped in the famous battle for independence, near Maipú, where a shrine was built as a vow after the victory, for which Mary is venerated as Our Lady of Carmen but was called “Generala de las fuerzas armadas,” General of the Armed Forces. The image of Mary, which is very ancient, is covered with embroidered mantles according to the Mapuche tradition or other ancient native traditions, which are very beautiful. There we celebrated the centenary of the institution of the military ordinariate for the pastoral care of the armed forces, which are placed under the protection of Mary and are much esteemed by the people because, besides particular instances, are persons who have a strong sense of solidarity and of the presence of God. Even now, after the earthquake, thousands and thousands of soldiers — as happens in other countries struck by natural disasters — have worked hard in the aid efforts for the people affected. Groups of 10,000 soldiers are deployed in the aid work and reconstruction.
Q: You met with the new Chilean officials who have only recently taken office. Will the relationship of respect, but also of cooperation, between the state and Church continue? What are the major challenges and priorities in this relationship?
Cardinal Bertone: It is customary, when I visit different countries, always to meet with the political authorities. I met with the president of the republic, the foreign minister, other ministers, in moments of exchange and at dinners given by them. The defense minister and the secretary general of the presidency of the republic came to the Shrine of Maipú. I talked with them about the period after the earthquake, the problems of reconstruction, not only of houses, of factories, but also of churches because many churches — churches of great historical and artistic value — were partially or gravely damaged. In this regard there is a civil project, but also much participation by the Church in reconstruction, a contribution to assistance of populations affected through Caritas in Chile, Caritas Internationalis and many other institutions, such as bishops’ conferences, the Italian bishops’ conference, for example. They have naturally placed themselves at the disposition of the aid efforts, with the desire to oversee the realization of specific reconstruction projects.
So, the issue of reconstruction came up immediately; then the issue of relations between the state and the Church in Chile, relations that are positive and promising. In Chile’s history these relations have developed positively, already from the time of independence
And then we turned our attention to Chile’s relations with neighboring countries, especially with Argentina after the peace treaty: Now there is the big project of digging a tunnel under the Andes to unite Chile and Argentina.
Naturally, we did not fail to touch on those principles that are fundamental and that close to the Catholic Church’s heart and the Chilean presidency, namely, the principle of the protection of life, the protection of the family, in its original plan, and the protection of the freedom of education. The educational system in Chile is well organized and the Catholic schools have a convention with the state for their educational project. The Catholic schools are greatly respected and are helped by the state financially, according to the number of students, because they render a public service and enjoy
the favor of the people. Then the fourth very important principle — the principle of solidarity. That is, the principle of the common good, joining responsibility and solidarity.
Q: Your remarks about the Church’s presence and about Catholicism in the course of the last two centuries, which were made in the context of the celebrations of the bicentennial, were widely reported in the Latin American press. How do Latin Americans — in this case the Chileans — feel and live this link, this presence?
Cardinal Bertone: The Church’s presence is strongly felt in the entire history of Latin America, and above all in the history of Chile; now, in this historical moment, the Church’s presence was immediately seen as a fraternal and maternal presence in the gravity of the circumstances experienced by the people. However, men of great faith and men of the Church have been protagonists in the history of Chile, from the beginning, in the struggle for independence.
They say: “The Church played an important role in the conquest of independence and in the building of the young Chilean state.” Also one must not forget that Chile was the first country of Latin America to send a diplomatic mission to Rome and that asked for a diplomatic mission from Rome to Chile. José Ignacio Cienfuegos, a famous canonist and protagonist in Chilean independence, came to Rome, and from Rome there was sent a diplomatic mission — which had many difficulties on the trip — led by Monsignor Muzzi and accompanied by the young Monsignor Mastai Ferretti, who later became Pius IX. Pius XI never forgot Chile and supported and defended the diplomatic relations between Chile and the Holy See, despite the polemics that arose over this mission. This is a positive sign from the very beginning of independence.
Then the educational work of the clergy was much appreciated, along with that of many congregations and, in a special way, of the great Chilean social saint, Father Alberto Hurtado, who is considered a champion, a pioneer of the social doctrine of the Church, founder of Christian labor unions. He is the concrete example of this interaction between the Church and society, which Chile forged as a mature, free, democratic country founded on the assimilation of the Church’s social doctrine.[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]