THe growing tension between church and state in Latin America is reflected in this country by new rounds of sometimes frantic protests against repression and denial of human rights in nations to the south.
Some of the protests are well organized efforts by national organizations. Others are hastily patched together efforts of men and women forced to cry out however they can against injustices that haunt them.
But taken together, they are evidence of growing concern over human rights violations in Latin America. They reflect the fact, according to some Latin American experts, that such violations are increasing.
"In the last six months, the extent of repression in Latin America has increased beyond a couple of set places such as Chile and Argentina," explained Thomas Quigley, veteran adviser for Latin American affairs for the U.S. catholic Conference.
Catholic Church structures in those countries, he went on, "have responded with incredible vigor" to patterns of repression, whether or not the church and its personnel are involved.
In country after country in Latin America, Quigley explained, the Catholic heirarchy once allied with the more conservative forces in many Latin nations, has condemned repressive government actions in ever stronger terms.
In this country, concerned Christians have taken up the cry in whatever ways they can. They include:
Amnesty International U.S.A., under the leadership of German Lutheran Bishop Helmut Frenz, has declared Sunday, May 22, as a Sunday of Concern for the more than 1,500 prisoners who the organization says have been arrested since the 1973 coup in Chile. Amnesty International has publicized its concern and mailed elaborate kits carefully documenting its case throughout the country.
Every Monday for the past month, a handful of Christians from a dozen Catholic and protestant organizations has gathered in Dupont Circle, just down the block from the Argentine Embassy, to protest the imprisonment of priests and lay persons in Argentina. Their appeals for "an audience" with embassy representatives have so far been denied.
The Maryknoll order of missioners is circulating an appeal from one of its priests, the Rev. Miguel d-Escota, denouncing "oppression of the Nicaraguan people by the government of Gen. Anastasio Somoza."
The letter containing the appeal is the most recent followup of earlier condemnations of the Somoza regime. It calls on Americans to appeal to their government to cut off aid to the Nicaraguan givernment.
The protesters are little daunted by their seeming powerlessness against entrenched governments.
They come armed with carefully prepared documents, detailing arrests, kidnapping, disappearances, assassinations, and they pass out their literature to all who will take it.
"It's a good educational process," said sister Elizabeth Campbell, one of the organizers of the Dupont Circle vigil in behalf of Argintine prisoners. "The people in Dipont Circle take the material we hand out. They seem interested."
Bishop Frenz who was expelled form Chile in 1975 for his work with the Committeee for Cooperation an dPeace, explained the other reason Christians carry on these protests.
In light of "overwhelming proof," he said, "we Christians ought not to be silent about the inhumanities in Chile. In the Gospel, Jesus Christs demands that we be active on behalf of suffering humanity throughout the world,"