A thumb of a hill, nearly 900 meters high, punctuates the Mapocho River valley. A ride up the south side of Cerro San Cristobal on a funicular railway takes you high enough to get a fine panoramic view of Santiago, the capital of Chile.
Given a clear day a glimpse of the not too distant snow-capped Andes to the east can make the price of the ticket even more worthwhile.
An Italian restaurant near the foot of Cerro San Cristobal provided the venue almost four decades ago for my first meeting with Miguel d’Escoto.
A mutual friend had invited me along to meet this Maryknoll priest.
I can’t recall what had brought him to Chile, but our conversation focused on the heady swirl of vision and hope inspired by the presidential election that was then going on in that South American Republic.
A palpable popular mood for real, substantive change pervaded the highly politicized culture of the Chile of that day.
We shared that optimism over pizza that night.
As a member of the Student Coalition for Development on a UN-funded project I had been studying housing programs and grassroots initiatives in Chile.
My visits to self help groups, housing co-operatives, pre-fabricated housing factories and even a couple of well organized land seizures where scores of families dramatically attempted to break free from the cycle of poverty had fuelled my enthusiasm.
Around that table we all concurred; change was possible.
Our paths crossed again a few months later in the fall of 1970.
Back in Maryknoll, New York Father d’Escoto had taken on the task of setting up Orbis Books.
This small publishing effort has had a large impact.
It would publish Gustavo Gutiérrez’s seminal work A Theology of Liberation as well as works by key authors such as Daniel Berrigan, Phillip Berryman and Allan Boesak.
By the time of our meeting in New York the Chilean people had given Salvador Allende a plurality and the presidency of that country.
As the hemisphere’s first legally elected Marxist president assumed power plans by the Nixon government in the United States to destabilize Chile had already begun.
Measures that challenged their control wouldn’t be tolerated.
The hoped for change we had talked about so enthusiastically in the shadow of Cerro San Cristobal would die three years later on September 11, 1973, amidst the smoke and flames of a bombed out Palacio de la Moneda, the presidential palace.
D’Escoto supported the Sandinista Revolution which toppled the brutal, long time Somoza family dictatorship in Nicaragua in 1979.
The Sandinistas initiated a national literacy campaign, agrarian reform measures, rural health care and a host of other programmes. These sought to offer a vision of another possible Nicaragua for its citizens. Miguel d’Escoto was named the country’s foreign minister.
The Reagan administration went to extremes to force Nicaragua back into the subservient ranks of ‘Banana Republics’. Illegal arms and drug deals supported a surrogate ‘Contra’ army against them.
Nicaragua’s harbours were mined. A trade embargo with the United States sought to cripple the economy. Foreign Minister D’Escoto fought these measures all the way up to the World Court.
In the early 1990s after he stepped down as foreign minister Father d’Escoto made it to the Yukon.
He spoke in CYO Hall in Whitehorse.
Experience tempered, but had not diminished his vision of the need for fundamental change in the dominant global political and economic order.
As I recall he left with enough support from Yukoners to buy a set of jerseys for a youth baseball team from a poor area of Managua, Nicaragua that he was working with.
In June of this year Miguel d’Escoto won the presidency of the United Nations General Assembly by acclamation.
He will preside over the 63rd Session of this world body.
“They elected a priest” d’Escoto noted a press conference shortly after his election according to an Associated Press release, “And I hope no one is offended if I say that love is what is most needed in this world. And that selfishness is what has gotten us into the terrible quagmire in which the world is sinking, almost irreversibly, unless something big happens.”
Advent is a liturgical season of hope and expectation.
This Advent it seems the whole world is longing for change.
The birth of another possible world will surely be difficult. Selfishness will not easily yield to love, but it must if the call for real, life affirming change is to answered.
Sunday, December 14 – 3rd Sunday of Advent. The suggested reading is John: 1:6-8, 19-28.
Tuesday, December 16 – The nine day Hispanic Christian festival of Posadas Navideñas begins today. It commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem in preparation for the birth of Jesus.
Thursday, December 18 – International Migrants Day calls our attention to the large and increasing number of migrants in the world and the need to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms.