My work over the years has led me to become a history teacher at my old secondary school here in Buenos Aires. Every year I guide my students as they grapple with Nunca Más in their studies. Some have parents or grandparents who suffered under the regime. Some have never discussed this history with their families. Some even come from families who favored the regime. The best I can do for them is stress the importance of remembering. Historical distortion and misuse of the past are very real and dangerous weapons – but by making sure my students are open and can communicate with each other and ask questions, I do my best to ensure that they understand how Argentina has been traumatized and how they can, as young people and as new actors in our society continue the process of seeking justice and remembrance.
Again and again, I go back to the Church. While we suffered, they slept. In March of 2013, the first Latin American was elected to the Papacy – Pope Francis. I watched the news announcement and got a shock of surprise when I saw his face. Jose Mario Bergoglio. He was still recognizable, after all of these years. I met him when I was just a teenager, with my friends from Universidad del Salvador. Those friends I never had heard from again – and later found out they had, like many others at the university, gone missing.
How odd to see Bergoglio become the Pope. He has been accused of not doing enough to get two priests out of prison during the Dirty Wars years. But, like many of these types of accusations against members of the Church, they’re too far in the past and too weak to really have any impact. I remember him as a vigorous personality, a man who liked fútbol and was passionate about spirituality and social justice.
I think Bergoglio is representative of how much of the Church interacted with Argentine society and politics during the Dirty Wars. Complicity is not the same as direct involvement – but as an institution could they have done better? I stopped going to mass as a child, but still became involved in Christian theology groups in university, and then of course my work through SERPAJ – there we were just normal people, Argentine citizens trying to understand and use our faith to find justice for ourselves and for the disappeared. Now I see Pope Francis as the vanguard of the poor. “I want a poor Church,” he says. Even today I read an American article on his urging to improve relations between Cuba and the US:
If Pope Francis could address the past in his own country, perhaps then I would be able to look at his actions in the international diplomatic sphere with more credibility. His words often echo Pope John Paul II’s after the Malvinas: reconciliation. Peace. He is exactly the radical social thinker I met in 1976; he is doing great work and represents Argentina quite well on the international stage. But as a survivor of the dark and dirty past in Argentina I would like to see more on his part to understand our history.
The years of the juntas became history so suddenly. As more and more of the generals and military officers either are convicted or die of old age, I somehow still don’t feel at ease with my own past and experiences. Even if they are in prison, my sister is still missing. The peace that my government and my Church wanted for all these years is not going to come easily for me; the only peace I can really have is with myself.