Pope Francis denounced the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights when celebrating mass in a restive region of Chile yesterday, hours after assailants fire-bombed churches and other targets.
The Argentine-born pontiff was shining the spotlight on the simmering conflict between the state and the Mapuche people, who centuries ago controlled vast areas of Chile but are now marginalised.
“You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” the pope said, speaking before thousands of faithful at an airfield in Temuco, the capital of the southern Araucania region.
“Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie,” the pope warned.
“We say ‘no to destructive violence’ in either of its two forms.”
Unidentified assailants hurled incendiary devices at three Catholic churches and an evangelical Christian church in pre-dawn attacks yesterday in the Araucania region.
Five other churches had previously been hit by arsonists in Chile’s capital, Santiago.
A forestry company helicopter also was torched during the night, and a policeman had been shot and wounded by a group of hooded assailants, authorities said.
The aim was to cause disorder or disturbance of the public order during the pope’s visit to Temuco, Chilean police chief Bruno Villalobos said.
At the pope’s first stop in Santiago, protests over the church’s handling of clergy abuse dominated the visit, his first to Chile as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
In Temuco, however, the papal spotlight turned to the Mapuche, who today account for 7% of Chile’s population, but hold only 5% of their ancestral lands.
Francis was scheduled to meet after the mass with a group of indigenous people whose identities had not yet been revealed by organisers, before returning to Santiago, where he would meet youths at the Maipu shrine and visit a Catholic university.
Thousands waited from the early hours of yesterday at the Maquehue airfield to hear the pope, who dedicated the mass to the victims of human rights abuses during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Today, Francis will visit the northern coastal city of Iquique, an immigration hotspot, before proceeding to Peru.
On Tuesday in Santiago, the pope conferred alone with a small group of victims of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, after he publicly asked for forgiveness and riot police broke up a protest near the first public mass of his South American visit. – AFP