Human Rights

A Different Priest: Who Was José Aldunate?

SANTIAGO – The Society of Jesus confirmed the death of José Aldunate on Saturday. A recipient of the National Prize of Human Rights, he was celebrated for his philanthropic nature. Who was he and what did he do?

José Aldunate, best known for being a strong defender of human rights during the Pinochet dictatorship, died on Sept. 28 at age 102. Nicknamed “Pepe” Aldunate, the Jesuit priest worked as a professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile from 1951 to 1963 and again from 1969 to 1980.

Aldunate also led and founded the Sebastián Acevedo Movement Against Torture, an organization that protested torture outside the detention centers throughout Chile. Demonstrators would stop traffic, pray, and publicly express their opinions. Their most well-known form of protest was performing the hymn, “I name you Freedom.”

The name of the group was inspired by Sebastián Acevedo, a man who burned himself in front of the Cathedral of Concepción in 1983. He demanded to know the whereabouts of his children after they were arrested by the dictatorship’s intelligence agents.

Aldunate also actively supported the Association of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees. A group made up of mostly women, he accompanied them when they marched in the streets. He also fasted with them when they went on hunger strike.

Aldunate was awarded the National Prize of Human Rights by the government on June 20, 2016, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, “for his outstanding work and career in the promotion and defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to the protection and shelter of workers and laborers, to the denunciation of threatened or violated human rights and to the protection of historically vulnerable groups.”

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Personal Ideology of Aldunate

In his earlier life, Aldunate decided not to take the typical path of a Jesuit priest and slowly rise through the ranks. Instead, he chose to live as a worker-priest and divide his time between the Catholic University and the outside working world. He followed this schedule until the 1973 coup d’etat. 

He commented on his decision to become a worker-priest in a memoir: “I said why don’t I try the insertion in the working world a little? If I was talking about justice in my chair as a moral teacher, I had the impression that I was not taking responsibility for what justice really is.”

He later became a Liberation theologist. This is a Christian theology belief that emphasizes political liberation for the oppressed and highlights social concern for the less fortunate.

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Memorials

The Museum of Memory and Human Rights held a ceremony on Sept. 29 in honor of Aldunate and his contributions to the fight for human rights.

Many religious figures, politicians, and human rights groups attended The San Ignacio Church on Sept. 30 for a service honoring Aldunate’s life. His remains were buried in the Jesuit Cemetery in the commune of Padre Hurtado.

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