Wednesday 21 February 2018

Santiago schoolchildren give president rousing serenade

Majella O'Sullivan Santiago

RAIN lashed down on Puente Alto, one of the poorest districts of Santiago, but a children's orchestra and choir dispelled the gloom with a blast of'Carmina Burana'.

The music is familiar to most as the theme from 'The Omen', or the Old Spice ad.

But a live performance by schoolchildren brought President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina to their feet -- and raised the hairs on the back of the necks of everyone else in the modest surrounds of a school gymnasium.

The visit to the Columban Fathers' parish of San Matias on the outskirts of the Chilean capital was one of the final engagements on the President's itinerary in Chile.

Parish priest of San Matias, Fr Pat Egan, who is originally from Claremorris, Co Mayo, but has been in Chile for 49 years, said aid from Ireland had been hugely important, particularly during the Pinochet regime.

"The people here are delighted that President Higgins has come out to visit them. Their own president didn't turn up here except before the election when he was looking for votes -- but since then he hasn't been seen," he said.

During his South American visit, President Higgins met his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Pinera and members of the houses of parliament. Today he begins the second leg of his journey in Brazil. But meeting the ordinary Chileans in San Matias was just as important as his engagements with politicians.

"I've met very serious decision makers in contemporary Chile, but this morning was also very important to me to be back among the Chilean people who are talking about housing, about their children, about drug addiction and about making a life where poverty has not been eliminated," he said.

The president said his visit to Chile was "emotional", but also "authentic".

Earlier he laid a wreath at the tomb of the former socialist president Salvador Allende -- who committed suicide on September 11, 1973, on the day the military staged a coup against him -- and met his daughter Senator Isabel Allende.

Later, he paid homage to poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda, whose work he admires. The president and Mrs Higgins laid a wreath at his grave outside his house in Isla Negra on the Pacific coast.

"It has been an extraordinarily emotional visit for me," the president said afterwards.

Irish Independent

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