President Higgins and Ambassador Hernández with Brendan.

Irish Franciscan Honoured by Chile Government

As part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Coup d'état in Chile in 1973, a commemorative ceremony was held at the Chilean embassy in Dublin, attended by the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins. On this special occasion, three Irish missionaries were honoured for their humanitarian work while they lived and worked in Chile in the 1970s and 1980s under the military dictatorship of General Pinochet.

During the meeting, led by Ambassador Ricardo Hernández, recognition was given to Liam Holohan (Mill Hill, posthumous), Brendan Forde OFM, and Desmond McGuilicuddy (Columban), for delivering humanitarian aid during the dictatorship. The honourees spoke during the event to recount their experience in Chile and how it marked their missionary work in other latitudes.

In his speech, President Higgins said: “What these three men had in common was a profound compassion and solidarity, a deep-seated sense of social justice, and a yearning to help and serve the poorest and most vulnerable people in Chile who were experiencing the most appalling poverty and living under fearful conditions of authoritarian military rule. 

“During Pinochet’s first three years of power alone, we now know that approximately 130,000 were arrested, and throughout his reign more than 3,000 were murdered, a further 3,000 disappeared, and tens of thousands were tortured, raped and sadistically abused.” 

Speaking of the Franciscan Brendan Forde, the President said, “He had opted out of living in a traditional friary in downtown Santiago and instead built a cardboard and timber hut at the city’s edge, sharing the lifestyle of his shantytown neighbours while helping the poorest Santiago citizens before being expelled to Buenos Aires, with  Fr McGillycuddy, in March 1983.”

“May I take this opportunity to wish Fr Forde, Fr McGillycuddy and the relatives of Fr Holohan my very best wishes for the future, and may I express, both on behalf of the Irish people and myself, a profound gratitude for their heroic work which improved the lives of so many vulnerable Chilean citizens.”