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Pope Tells ‘Gauchos’ That Church Backs Labor Unions

May 8, 1988

MELO, Uruguay (AP) _ Pope John Paul II visited Uruguay’s impoverished ″gaucho″ country Sunday and voiced strong support for labor unions, but he warned against groups claiming to have all the answers to workers’ problems.

The pope told a crowd of about 50,000 that he feels close ″in word and heart″ to those involved in union activities, an apparent reference to the labor unrest in his native Poland. On Saturday, during his flight from Rome to Uruguay, John Paul expressed approval of the Polish strikes.

Cowboys on horseback, wearing flat-crowned black hats and blankets draped over their shoulders, lined the route to the pope’s prayer service in a red- canopied altar erected in a large park.

″Those, who with zeal and sacrifice, seek to better the conditions of workers deserve unconditioned support,″ said John Paul.

He said ″no ideology can claim to have a monopoly on solutions to social problems.″ The church, he said, ″cannot allow any ideology or political group to snatch from it the flag of justice.″

This was a frequent theme on John Paul’s eight earlier visits to Latin America, especially in places where Marxists challenge the established economic order.

Although the pope didn’t mention Poland in his Melo remarks, Vatican officials said he was following the situation there closely. An aide said John Paul had been informed that his words of support Saturday were received with ″indescribable joy″ by striking workers in Poland’s Gdansk shipyard, according to reports reaching Rome.

As John Paul flew the 250 miles to Melo from Montevideo, his Uruguayan Air Force jet passed over herds of grazing cattle. But despite the cattle industry, Melo is one of Uruguay’s poorest areas. The town of 39,000 people near the Brazilian border has been hit hard by unemployment.

Referring to the distribution of wealth, John Paul said those who own land and other property have an obligation to put their wealth to the benefit of the entire community.

″Private property includes a social mortgage,″ he said.

John Paul frequently cited the church’s social teaching, including an encyclical he wrote in 1981 on the problems of work. The pope had cited that document as giving justification to the strikes taking place in Poland.

The pope visited Melo on the second day of a 12-day, four country South American visit.

At sunset, the pope led a Mass in a soccer stadium filled with 20,000 people in Florida, 68 miles north of Montevideo. He ordained 12 Uruguayan priests and one Argentine during the three-hour ceremony.

There was a brief incident when the pope left a cleared path to touch hands with members of the crowd as he entered the stadium. Security personnel surrounding the pope, who was seriously wounded in a May 1981 assassination attempt in Rome, edged several people out of the way until he returned to the path.

The pope reminded the crowd, including many teen-agers, of Uruguay’s Christian origins and then told the newly ordained priests ″your task is enormous. You’ll be in the center of the dialogue between God and mankind about salvation.″

Several people were allowed on the stage to present the pope with gifts including a tapestry and a fawn that the pontiff petted on the head.

″Our people, as you know well, need more priests,″ the pope said. Uruguay is considered the least religious country in South America. Its president is a self-proclaimed agnostic, divorce has been legal since 1907 and church and state have been separated for 61 years.

In Montevideo, a Polish-Jewish survivor of a Nazi concentration camp in World War II said Sunday that the pope embraced him with ″great emotion″ upon meeting him and hearing his story.

Chil Rajman, 75, now an Uruguayan citizen, said that during a brief meeting Saturday night between the pope and members of this country’s small Jewish community, he mentioned that he had been in the German-run death camp in Treblinka, Poland.

″The pope grasped my hand with great emotion and said to me: ’You were in Treblinka and you survived,‴ Rajman said.

Pedro Sclofsky, the president of Uruguay’s Central Jewish Committee, said that during the meeting, at Montevideo’s Catholic University, ″the pope asked how many Jews there are here and if we practice our faith freely.″

Uruguay, with about 50,000 Jews among its 3 million inhabitants, guarantees the freedom of all religions. Although most Uruguayans are nominally Catholic, the country rigorously separates church and government in all areas.

The pope’s itinerary included two days in Uruguay before flying Monday to Bolivia for five days and then visiting Peru and Paraguay.

John Paul returns to Rome on May 18, his 68th birthday. This is his 37th foreign trip since becoming pope nearly 10 years ago.

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