Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Pope pays tribute to founder of 'Mothers of Plaza de Mayo'

 Head of rights group during Argentina's military dictatorship dies at 93 |  Argentina | The Guardian

In a letter to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo), who for 45 years have been calling for justice in Argentina for all the 'desaparecidos,' those who disappeared during the military dictatorship, Pope Francis expresses sorrow for the death of its president and founder Hebe de Bonafini: "Her boldness and courage, at times when silence prevailed, kept alive the search for truth and memory."

Pope Francis remembered Hebe de Bonafini in his letter recalling her "boldness and courage" and her ability to transform her grief over the disappearance of her children "into a tireless quest to defend the rights of the most marginalized and invisible." 

The Pope paid tribute to the Argentine activist, founder and president of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mother of Plaza de Mayo) who died on 20 November at the age of 93 due to health complications.

The Pope expressed his condolences in a letter to all the Mothers, the women, who for 45 years have taken to the streets in Buenos Aires in front of the Casa Rosada to call for justice and truth for the desaparecidos (disappeared) during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina. 

The Pope encouraged them to carry forward Hebe de Bonafini's commitment and continue to be "Mothers of Memory."

Meeting at Santa Marta

"In this moment of sorrow," the letter reads in Spanish, "I want to be close to you and to all those who mourn her departure." The Pope recalled meeting her at the Casa Santa Marta on 28 May 2016, saying he remembers in particular "the passion she shared with me for wanting to give a voice to those who do not have one."

Their two-hour meeting took place six years ago and was marked by tears, sharing, memories, but also by Bonafini's request for forgiveness as she had harshly criticized the Pope in the past. 

She herself said she had come to her senses and made an apology to the Pope who, in addition to accepting it, said in an interview and a subsequent letter that he had "bowed" in respect for the deep sorrow of this mother who saw her children Jorge Omar and Raul Alfredo disappear into nothingness, like so many other dissidents of the regime.

"She kept the search for truth alive"

"Her boldness and courage, at times when silence prevailed, moved her and kept alive the search for truth, memory and justice," writes Pope Francis. "A quest that led her to march every week," to assure the public and history would not forget them, and "so that commitment to caring for each other would be the best word and antidote against the atrocities she suffered."

Hebe de Bonafini never missed a remembrance march, totaling 2,036 demonstrations since the first one on 30 April 1977 around the Píramide de Mayo. She was always present, with her white knotted scarf on her head, the symbol of the association that commemorated her departure with a large drawing of her own scarf engraved on the floor of the Bonaerense plaza.

Her last march

Now at her "last march," the Pope writes, asking everyone to accompany Hebe "with prayer, asking the Lord to give her eternal rest." As a final invitation to those sharing her struggles, he writes: "Do not allow all the good that has been done to be lost...I pray for you, please do not forget to pray for me," the Pope concludes his letter.

Bishops' condolences

As Argentina remembers the witness and legacy of Hebe de Bonafini, the government of Alberto Fernández has declared three days of national mourning. 

And the bishops of the Argentine Episcopal Conference (CEA) released messages via their official social media accounts offering condolences for the death of the Argentine activist: "We ask the Lord for consolation for her family and friends, and we also send our condolences to the Madres de Plaza de Mayo Association."