Responses to Chile prison fire

December 9, 2010

Fr. Michael Hoban, Columban missionary priest from the U.S. and Vicar for the southern zone of Santiago, asks the local Church to pray for victims of the recent prison fire.

chile prison fire, catholic mission

The Vicar of the southern zone of Santiago, Chile, Fr. Michael Hoban, called on all the pastors and pastoral agents of the local Church of Santiago to remain in deep prayer over the prison tragedy that occurred in the prison of San Miguel the morning of December 8, 2010, and claimed the lives of over 80 people.

“This prison holds mainly our neighbors, from the areas of the southern zone of Santiago, people from our communities,” Fr. Hoban stated.  “Therefore, I would like us all to be in prayer for the more than 80 families that have lost their loved ones in these tragic conditions.”

chile prison fire, catholic response, mission

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, archbishop of Santiago, visited the site of the fire, noting that “our society forgot about this problem for a long time, only placing it on our national agenda recently, for our bicentenary year.”

Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Concepción also released an urgent message.  “A tragedy has darkened this feast day, in which the greater part of our country venerates the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the very first hours of daylight,” the archbishop, president of the Chilean Conference of Bishops, declared.  “A fire in the prison of San Miguel has claimed the lives of 81 prisoners, according to the latest information we have received. …We pray for those who have lost their lives so tragically, and for the recovery of the injured, and for the work that the authorities are engaged in.”

“…Many centers of incarceration do not avail of real and sufficient opportunities for rehabilitation for the prisoners, even the new prisons,” the archbishop added.  “On the contrary, we know that, frequently, the penal institutions are the most violent and dehumanizing habitats of all those that favor the development of delinquency.  Violent death on prison grounds is one of the worst ways to conclude one’s passage through history.  The true stories that the Church receives on a daily basis, within the context of our pastoral attention in the prisons, are eloquent regarding this world of suffering and pain, a pain to which we, as a society, many time respond with indifference.”

chile prison fire, catholic response“We believe that the country ought to know clearly the causes of this tragedy,” Archbishop Ezzati concluded, “and also the indignant conditions in which many imprisoned live.  With hope, we encourage the implementation of the measures announced a month ago by the Ministry of Justice, in order to notably improve the living conditions of the imprisoned.  It’s still not too late to accept the fundamental proposal of our July declaration:  That we social actors enter into a dialogue at the highest level in order to definitively resolve the drama of Chile’s prisons, just as was accomplished in the areas of education, work and pensions, and as was recently done with to improve public health.  The penitentiary reality of Chile must be incorporated into the list of decisions to make, and this is urgent.”

The prison of San Miguel was built with a capacity for 900 prisoners, and held 1,900 prisoners at the time of the fire.   Of Chile’s total population of 17 million people, about 37,000 are incarcerated in 95 prisons throughout the country—about 200 persons per 100,000 inhabitants.  Only Panama and the U.S. have a higher proportion of prisoners per population.