Journey to Santiago


On 27 February 1977 we began our journey to Santiago for the first area conference in our native country of Chile. My wife Teresa and I and our four children—Oriana, Doris, Mariela, and Mario, Jr.—were especially eager to go because President Spencer W. Kimball would be there. We had not been able to get bus tickets, so we would have to travel the 530 kilometers from our home town of Los Angeles by train.

Our family of six, plus about nine other members of the Los Angeles Second Branch, were traveling together. After making several transfers, our group arrived in Valdivia. From here, the last part of the journey would take ten hours.

At the Valdivia station, about 150 people were waiting to board the train to Santiago. When it arrived, it was announced over the loudspeakers that the engine was broken down. We were to wait another two hours for another engine to arrive. But already the train was so full that people were standing on the steps and hanging out the windows.

Another train from further south was due to arrive later that night. We gathered together to pray and plan. We agreed that each of us should try to get on the next train however we could, making sure that the youngest child, Mario, Jr., was on. Sometime after midnight, we heard a train whistle and people began to shout, “It’s coming! It’s coming!” By now two hundred people were waiting on the platform.

When the new train arrived, we were disappointed to see that it, too, was already full. As it slowed and stopped, we all scrambled to find a place to get on. Looking out for young Mario, I pushed him into one of the cars. But the train was already moving; it had stopped for only a few seconds! As it disappeared into the darkness, Mama asked, “Where is everyone?” All of us were there except ten-year-old Mario. “Where is my son?” Mama asked frantically. I tried to explain what had happened and told her we must trust in the Lord.

Heartsick, we looked at the broken engine from Valdivia. It was our only hope. We managed to climb aboard the back part of the coal bin—fifteen people carrying suitcases and packages, crammed into a space not more than four meters wide. An hour later another engine was hooked to our engine, and we began the ten-hour trip. There we were—men, women, and children—holding onto bars and railings, many standing on one foot with the other foot hanging off into space, some strapped on with belts. We were cold and wind-blown. Sparks from the engine’s smokestack rained down on us.

After two and a half hours of traveling, the relief engine was replaced by a diesel engine. Occasionally, our desperation turned to panic as we wondered what was happening to our little Mario, who was by this time three hours ahead of us.

It was one o’clock in the afternoon when our train finally reached our destination. The central station in Santiago was like a sea of people. Shortly after we began searching, we heard a small voice saying, “Mama, mama.” We hugged Mario and each other and wept with joy. The Lord had heard our prayers.

Young Mario told us how frightened he had been. The journey seemed so long that it made him feel like crying. Finally, he had found a space between two seats, where he had slept all night. When he arrived in Santiago, he didn’t know what to do. He told us that only his faith in the Lord and his desire to meet the prophet had sustained him.

That night at the priesthood session, the Chile stadium was full. Young Mario and I were seated just forty meters from the prophet. The spirit of the occasion was so wonderful that tears again filled my eyes to think of the great blessings our sacrifice had brought. I was contemplating our marvelous experience when I noticed that Mario was missing. I looked quickly around, but young Mario was nowhere to be found.

Very frightened, I turned toward the prophet, as if seeking comfort. There was Mario, greeting the prophet and shaking his hand in a gesture of love. Then Mario ran toward me, weeping for joy. “Look at my hand,” he said. “It touched the prophet of God.” He had slipped past the guards protecting President Kimball.

Today, eight years later, Mario is an engineering student at the university. He is a leader in the Church and is preparing to serve a mission. “As long as I live, I will remember that I shook the prophet’s hand,” he says. “It is the love of our Heavenly Father for all of us, especially our family, that gives me the courage to serve the Lord full-time.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Larry Winborg