SANTIAGO, Chile — Pope John Paul II died on the 18th anniversary of a visit to Chile in which he fell into a propaganda trap set by dictator Augusto Pinochet. Hundreds of tearful Catholics packed Santiago Cathedral on Saturday as the bells tolled for the late pope, and the government ordered three days of national mourning.
Many who attended special Masses held in churches across Chile also had turned out to see the pope during his April 1-6, 1987, visit.
The Vatican had condemned Gen. Pinochet for human rights abuses and the disappearance of political prisoners, but the dictator managed to stage a photograph in which he is shown smiling at the side of the pontiff.
On April 3, 1987, as the pope celebrated a “Mass of Reconciliation” in Santiago’s O’Higgins Park, thousands of demonstrators massed nearby. Gunshots rang out and barricades were set aflame as protesters called for the end of the Pinochet regime.
Authorities cut short the Mass attended by 100,000 people.
The Vatican had demanded that the pope’s visit be purely religious and wanted to avoid joint appearances with the dictator.
But the following day, Gen. Pinochet appeared with the pope on the balcony of La Moneda, the presidential palace, applauded deliriously by a crowd assembled by rightists.
At the end of a closed-door meeting of the two men, Gen. Pinochet quietly pointed the pope toward a door, which unbeknownst to the pontiff led to a balcony.
Pinochet aides later handed out thousands of copies of the photograph of the pope and the smiling dictator. But the propaganda campaign was in vain. Gen. Pinochet lost a plebiscite on his mandate in October 1988, and the first free elections since his coup d’etat were organized the following year.