Pope John Paul II opened an eight-day visit to Central America today with a call for peace and social justice that he said is attainable only if "each people can confront its problems in a climate of sincere dialogue without alien interference."
"I speak of peace, concord and hope," the 62-year-old pontiff said shortly after stepping from the Alitalia DC10 that carried him from Rome to San Jose's Juan Santamaria International Airport.
Bareheaded, his white hair whipped by a humid wind, John Paul bent to kiss the soil of Costa Rica, then rose to address the flag-waving crowd in words that set a clear tone for a week of travel that will take him to Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Haiti.
"An unleashed clamor has reverberated with an urgent ring in my spirit, a clamor that rises from these lands and that calls for peace, an end to war and violent deaths; that implores reconciliation, expelling divisions and hatred; that aspires to justice, long but so far fruitlessly awaited; that wants to be called to a greater dignity, without renouncing its Christian, religious essence," he said.
The 15-minute arrival speech, with President Luis Alberto Monge of Costa Rica at the pope's side, marked an unexpectedly specific and swift appeal for resolution of the conflicts troubling Central America.
"It is this sorrowful clamor that I would like to give voice to with my visit," the pope said, "the voice that is conjured up by the already well-known image of the tears or deaths of children, of the anguish of the elderly, of the mother who loses her children, of the long line of orphans, of those many thousands of refugees, exiles or displaced persons searching for a home, of the poor with neither home nor work."
Church leaders in the area are sharply divided regarding the cause of the conflicts that now threaten to broaden into regional warfare and what should be done to resolve them. These divisions echo charges by the Reagan administration and some governments here that blame the strife on outside aggression from Cuba and the Soviet Union, and countercharges by Marxist leaders in Cuba and Nicaragua who say U.S. interference is to blame.
In an apparent effort to balance his remarks, the pontiff called for a response to "a growing feeling of distributive justice in the duties and positions among diverse sectors of society," while adding that such change is possible only if "each people can confront its problems in a climate of sincere dialogue without alien interference."
He accompanied the appeal with a warning that the response must come "without resorting to violent methods or collective systems that could turn out no less oppressive of man's dignity than a purely economic capitalism," again hesitating to come down on one side or the other in the ideological divisions that have embattled Central America.
"It is the life of man, the humanism proclaimed by the church and its social teaching that can overcome these lamentable situations awaiting timely reforms," he added.
The pope's choice of Costa Rica as his first stop was seen as a demonstration of these concerns. This nation of 2.5 million residents is Central America's most effective democracy, with a civilian government put into power by free elections.
"We accept dialogue as the golden rule for maintaining internal peace and to collaborate in its maintenance in the region," Monge said in welcome. "We will be workers for peace within the cultural design that grows from the soul of our people and proclaims the supremacy of the spirit."
John Paul boarded his special "pope-mobile"--a glass platform on a pickup truck--for the 11-mile drive into San Jose. The road was lined with cheering Costa Ricans, some of whom had pitched tents to withstand a morning rain while they waited from as early as 7:30 a.m. "It is our only opportunity to see the pope," said a girl who had waited with her family at the entrance to the city from shortly after dawn until the pope passed under cloudy but dry skies at about 4:30 p.m.
The pontiff, waving at the crowd with outstretched arms from behind his bulletproof glass pod, drove directly to Costa Rica's Central Seminary for an address to the region's bishops.
In his talk to the several dozen Central American prelates gathered here, John Paul reiterated the themes he had evoked a short time earlier on his arrival.
The pope also made several references to the doctrine enunciated in January 1979, at the third Latin American Bishops' Conference in Puebla, Mexico, directing the clergy to emphasize their evangelical role rather than their political role.
"To carry out his mission, every churchman must keep in mind that he cannot have recourse to violent methods that contradict his Christian condition, nor to ideology inspired by visions that reduce man and his transcendent destiny," he said, adding at another point: "This is the source of the strong insistence on the absolute priority to our evangelical mission."
The pontiff's words emphasized pastoral concerns that he and his followers in the Central American church have said are the main reasons for the trip, his fourth to Latin America.
"The pope comes to the region because he knows of our suffering," said Msgr. Gerardo Flores Reyes, a Guatemalan bishop and Latin American vice president of Caritas, the Catholic relief organization. "He comes to create a climate for a dialogue for peace that is more sincere, more effective, more rational, instead of this irrational conflict we have in Central American countries."
Frequent calls for dialogue between the Salvadoran government and the leftist guerrilla movement there have put the church in opposition to official Salvadoran policy and, indirectly, with U.S. policy on the conflict. John Paul signaled his support of the church's stand with today's reference to dialogue and with the nomination earlier this week of Msgr. Arturo Rivera y Damas, its chief spokesman, as permanent archbishop of San Salvador.
The Salvadoran rebel movement, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, and its political wing, the Democratic Revolutionary Front, ran a joint advertisement in San Jose's main newspaper today seeking to cover their struggle in the church's mantle.
The full-page advertisement made particular reference to a rebel call for unconditional dialogue last October, refused by President Alvaro Magana's U.S.-backed government.
"We use the occasion of Pope John Paul II's visit to reiterate our willingness for serious and responsible dialogue, without preconditions by any of the parties, taking into account that in present circumstances it is not possible to speak of forms of understanding if the necessary participation of our fronts is not recognized as representative forces of the Salvadoran people," it said.