Father Pierre Dubois, 1931-2012

Father Pierre Dubois, a French priest who worked with Chile’s poor since 1963, died today at his residence in a Santiago slum.

He was a Roman Catholic priest and French citizen serving in one of Santiago’s poorest neighborhoods, sometimes placing himself between his parishioners and the riot police and soldiers who periodically raided the community during the Pinochet regime. In one notorious operation on November 15, 1984, troops with tanks and military trucks surrounded La Victoria at dawn, conducting house-to-house searches and rounding up thousands of men and teenage boys who were taken to a sports stadium for identity checks.

Why had La Victoria been raided?  Regime officials said they were looking for weapons and criminals, but Father Pierre Dubois said the operation was to “terrorize and punish the people.” (This blogger covered the raid for ABC Radio and Newsweek, and here’s a New York Times story on the operation: http://www.nytimes.com/1984/11/16/world/troops-and-police-detain-thousands-in-a-raid-in-chile.html).  Less than two months earlier his assistant pastor, Father Andre Jarlan, had been killed by police gunfire that penetrated the walls of their parish rectory (see earlier post https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/sad-september/).

The regime later expelled Father Dubois and two other foreign priests in 1986 but he returned in 1990 when an elected civilian government took power. Upon arrival in Chile he headed straight back to La Victoria where he resumed his pastoral work.  In 1996 some members of the Chilean Congress voted to award him Chilean citizenship, a move blocked by rightwing politicians but later approved in 2001. He expanded his pastoral work to counselling young drug addicts, and even when he began to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease  insisted on remaining in the parish.

A statement by the Chilean Episcopal Conference said Father Dubois had passed away “in his beloved La Victoria.”

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