Pope John Paul II is a Pontiff remembered for helping bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain, but less well-known is the fact that on October 16, 1978 the late Pope intervened in a confrontation between Argentina and Chile to establish peace. To recall the occasion, Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The message, which was made public today, was sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone in the Pope's name, to Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio S.J., archbishop of Buenos Aires.
The original dispute between Argentina and Chile involved three islands that each nation desired to claim so that they could have rights over the territorial seas. Argentina desired to say that it had claims to the Pacific, while Chile wanted territorial rights to the Atlantic.
With the two South American nations about to declare war on Christmas Eve of 1978, Pope John Paul II intervened, sending a special delegate, Cardinal Antonio Samore to resolve the dispute. After years of negotiations, the governments of Argentina and Chile agreed to divide the islands in a way that neutralized their claims to territorial oceanic rights.
On October 16, 2008, a celebration was held in Buenos Aires at the Pontifical Catholic University to mark the 30th anniversary of John Paul II's mediation.
In the letter sent in Pope Benedict’s name, Cardinal Bertone recalls that the reason for the celebration is "to recall the pontifical mediation that helped resolve a controversy which was running the risk of turning into a conflict, and to reflect upon the fruits of peace which matured then and have lasted to our own time."
The letter praised Cardinals Antonio Samore and Agostino Casaroli, who took over negotiations after Samore’s death, for their efforts to secure peace between the two countries.
Bertone described the peace process as "an admirable example of building peace by the principal and ever-relevant method of dialogue, which aims not at the supremacy of power or interest, but at affirming impartial justice, the sure and stable foundation for coexistence among peoples."
Cardinal Bertone also pointed out that the episode shows that "in all controversies dialogue does not prejudice rights, rather it broadens the field of reasonable possibilities for solving differences." The message closed by calling on "the new generation, …to look to the future with eyes of hope and to commit themselves to building the civilization of love, of which John Paul II was prophet, though not always heard."