Encuentro Santiago

Chile: The rock in the middle of protests

A letter from a university student who fled Venezuela. Her distress in front of the protests that wipe across her new country, the smile of a friend who is worse off, the questions that do not leave her alone. And then her decision to volunteer...

Last week, in Chile, there was a climate of great tension. Seeing, once again, people protesting in order to claim, with great force, just things - to lower the price of the metro, pensions, fair wages, health, quality education... - has aroused in me an enormous desire to do for Chile what I never did for Venezuela, my home country: to contribute to build a better country.

As the protests became more violent, to the point of destroying metro stations, looting, the abuse of people on both sides, I began to feel a huge rejection for the disproportionate way that they were attempting to make themselves heard: sacrificing the beauty of a city to be heard by the government, as well as fomenting mutual hatred. I thought: "These people have a metro with many lines, a city that is so beautiful, they live in freedom, they can express themselves without being condemned, they eat without worrying and they have clean tap water! They have everything and, yet, they complain like children”. With this desire to do something, together with my distress, I ended up greatly confused – and that’s exactly what the people want - so I started discussing it with my friends. Sometimes I felt that my opinion was mature, other times I felt like I didn't have a rock to support my opinion, but I never stopped discussing, so much so that some people were becoming hostile towards me.
What was happening to me?

We discussed it during a lunch, with other university students of the movement and the students from the San Bernardo high school, in the house of our friends, priests from the Fraternity of San Carlo. Amongst the many judgements that came out, a friend of mine, a seminarian, made me understand that I am a woman of little faith. Initially, I laughed at the idea that one should pray in front of the incompetence or evil of a government. However, when he helped me to understand better what he meant, I felt sadness and shame. My comments and the passion with which I spoke about politics, without the conscience of Christ being the center, made me feel like part of the problem.

Reflecting and speaking with those who help me look at everything, I realized - among many things - that Chile had given me everything, yet, I often complained a lot: I was a stupid child. So then why, if I have everything, is it not enough for me?

I always remember the beautiful smile of a Venezuelan boy, a dear friend, whom I met on a pilgrimage to Aparecida, Brazil. Despite experiencing great difficulties in Venezuela, he was really happy. Even though I had managed to escape, and now live quietly and comfortably, I could not smile like him. What made us different? What was behind the protests, in Venezuela, as in Chile? I didn't know, but the only thing that was clear to me was that we all want to help make a change; from this point of view, for me, the decisive question has become: how can I also be useful for this change? But in order to answer this, I first had to find the answer to another question: what changed me? Have I found something that constitutes me?
Yes, the encounter with Christ, the Church, the School of Community, charity and the companionship, where there are concrete faces that remind me that there’s a place where life can be lived well.

If this is what constitutes me, then I suppose that, in turn, I too should help build there. Therefore, I joined the lost of volunteers for Encuentro Santiago, and I gave my availability to help Fr. Tommaso to organize the chapel they have recently built.
During Encuentro Santiago, Davide Perillo, the director of Traces, asked me: "Why are you here?" I told him this story. Everything I had reflected upon had brought me there. I didn't understand everything, because he spoke in Italian. But what impressed me most was his dialogue with the former Minister of Education, Mariana Aylwin. There, he said something that began to give meaning to my questions: "What unites me to the other, even though we are very different, is the fact that we both have the same desire for happiness.”

Thus, I understand why all of us, here in Chile, complain like children even though we have everything. I also understand the grievances of the inhabitants of cities and slums, and their deep hatred of those who are richer. I understand much more, and cannot be satisfied with superficial changes. I understand why people say: "The President has made good improvements, but they are not enough". If the political situation in Venezuela were to change tomorrow, we will certainly live better, but without this awareness of our infinite desire, it will not be enough. That is what happened here in Chile: the dictatorship is over, but, thirty years later, it is not enough. I have seen many protests that only serve to express discontent, but they are not enough: I can protest twenty times consecutively, but I will always return home sad, with the feeling that I have not done enough, because none of this responds to my desire to be happy. If not even doing what I am most passionate about, and to which I am dedicating my studies, – opera singing- fully responds to my desire for happiness, then a protest will not be able to.

Thus, the question that arises within me is: have I ever seen a place where there is the possibility of being happy? Have I found "the rock among the waves of the sea"?

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Even though I often forget that the island exists, and I let the sea drag me adrift, this companionship reminds me that the island, that rock which is the Church and this companionship, were given to me. It’s a place where I saw happiness in specific faces and where, I too, was happy. So my answer is yes, and it’s here that I must build, walk, and where I can be part of the change of the world: through charity, playing with children or praying with them at the end of the games, in the School of Community, thanking them at Mass, reciting the Liturgy of the Hours, responding to Christ, returning to meet these faces that remind me of Him, when the sea is about to drag me away again.
Perhaps it is not a "mass phenomenon", as many people, including myself, think. But wasn’t it the twelve who, following Christ, changed the world to this day?

Alejandra, Santiago, Chile