By: The Dawn News / January 20, 2018
From January 15 to 21, Pope Francis visited Chile and Peru in his sixth visit to Latin America as leader of the Catholic Church.
On the eve of the Pope’s arrival in Chile, the night was illuminated by burning several churches. A sector of Chilean society is indignant about cases of sexual abuse to children perpetrated by members of the Church. A total of nine catholic churches were burned to the ground throughout the country.
Words but not Actions Against Sexual Abuse to Children
On Monday, January 15, Pope Francis arrived in Chile. In the morning of Tuesday 16, he gave a public mass at the O’Higgins Park. He began his speech by touching one of the most sensitive problems the Catholic Church faces in Chile: cases of sexual abuse committed by members of the institution on children. “I can’t help but express the pain and shame I feel about the irreparable damage caused to children by the Church”, he said. Later that day, in the Santiago de Chile Cathedral, he referred to the issue again in a private meeting with priests, clergy and seminarians. He urged the priests to say sorry, but he also cast a shadow of doubt on sexual abuse denounces when he added that many innocent priests had had to endure false accusations. His message was also tarnished by the fact that the infamous Osorno Bishop, Juan Barros—who is accused of covering up sexual abuses perpetrated by Fernando Karadima but was never brought to court for it—was among the crowd that listened to him in the Cathedral. He was also present in the Pope’s mass earlier that day in O’Higgins Park, causing indignation among the victims. When asked by a Chilean radio station on this matter, the Pope answered with some irritation: “when someone presents to me proof against Bishop Barros, I will speak. There is not one shred of proof against him. It is nothing more than defamation. Are we clear?”, he said.
A march by the lay people of Osorno, who were demanding the removal of Bishop Barros, along with worker priest Mariano Puga and grassroots christians for liberation, was repressed on that day.
On Wednesday 17, Pope Francis visited part of the ancestral land of the Mapuche people. In Araucanía, Chile, he began his homily with a greeting in mapudungun, the Mapuche tongue. “Mari, Mari” (good morning), “Küme túnngün ta niemün” (may the peace be with you), he said. He recounted the historic injustices suffered by the Mapuche people and other native peoples of the region, and quoted communist songwriter and singer Violeta Parra: “Arauco has sorrows I can’t help but speak, centuries-old injustices that everybody can see”. He also mentioned the human rights violations committed by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, which ruled the country from 1973 to 1990.
The Pope’s took an explicit stance on the age-old conflict between the Mapuche people and the Chilean state and called to a non-violent approach by both sides. He begun by criticising the Mapuche resistance movement: “we can’t ask to be acknowledged as we annihilate the other, because this causes more violence and separation”, he said, and added that “violence ends up turning the most just causes into lies”. On the other hand, he referred to the Chilean state by speaking of “another form of violence”, which consists in “the signing of pretty agreements that are never fulfilled”. He omitted mentioning the more direct forms of violence used by the Chilean state against the Mapuche people: bullets, fire and judicial persecution.
Stop oppression, stop the exploitation of resources and the exclusion of human beings, stop colonialism and imperialism: that was the message of Pope Francis I, on his arrival to the heart of the Amazonian jungle, ancestral land of over 350 indigenous peoples with marvelous minerals and vegetation. The leader of the Christian Church took a stance in defence of native peoples and issued a warning. “The lives of Amazonian native peoples have never before been as threatened as they are now”, he emphasized, in a speech he gave in front of local indigenous peoples.
Pope “Francisco”, who is the first Pope to arrive in this part of the world, also called to “break the historical paradigm that considers the Amazonia as a bottomless source of commodities for the States without considering its inhabitants”.
Francis envisions himself as the Pope of Earth protection. He derived his name from Saint Francis of Assisi, patron of animals and the natural environment. The Argentine Pope is the author of the first encyclical focused on the protection of the environment, the Laudato Si’, which he gifted to the Peruvian native groups, translated in their own languages. It was crucial for him to visit this area, which is considered the capital of biodiversity of Peru. He even announced he wants to highlight this place by holding a Sinode for the Amazonia, which he convened for October 2019.
Although this area is rich in resources, its people are very poor, and afflicted by many social issues. Perù is the third country with most modern-day slavery in the American continent, according to the Walk Free Foundation, and this issue is especially serious in the Amazonia. Many girls are trafficked to become sex slaves for the men who work in illegal mines. It is estimated that at least 400 clandestine brothels operate in that area.
Francisco denounced all of this in a meeting he held with 4,000 representatives of the peoples of the Amazonia in the “Mother of God” Regional Coliseum.
The event began with artistic-religious performances by the Amazonian peoples: dances, songs and music, many of them donning their traditional clothes and face-paints.
“The Amazonia is a region over which there are many contenders. On one hand, neo-extractivism and pressure by big economic interests who direct their greed towards oil, gas, wood, gold, and agroindustrial monocultures”, the Pope said. “Another threat against their territories also comes from the perversion of some policies that promote the ‘preservation’ of nature without considering the human being, specifically you, Amazonian brothers, who live in those lands. We know about movements that, in the name of the preservation of the forest, occupy big extensions of woods and negotiate with them, creating situations of oppression for the native peoples, who lose access to the land and its natural resources”, he denounced. In his speech, which received many rounds of applause, he condemned oil spills, environmental polution caused by illegal mining, the “new colonialisms”, imperialism, diseases, forced sterilization of women (which was a policy implemented by former President Alberto Fujimori) and human trafficking. “Violence against girls and women is a cry that reaches the sky”, he accused.
Francis listened to the testimonies of inhabitants of the area, who shared the serious problems they face.
“We, the natives of the Peruvian Amazonia, are survivors of many cruelties and injustices. Currently, many foreigners are invading our territories: forestry companies, gold miners, oil companies, who open trails to create cement pathways”, denounced Yésica Patiac, of the Harakbut people. “They enter our land without asking, and we will suffer greatly and die when the foreigners drill the land to extract the black, metalized water, we will suffer when they poison and ruin our rivers and turn them into black waters of death”, she warned.
“We ask you to defend us. Foreigners see us as weak and insist on taking our land in different ways. If they manage to take our lands, we could disappear”, asid Héctor Sueyo, of the same ethnicity. He also expressed his concern over climate change and the spread of diseases.
María Luzmila Bermeo, from the Awajún people, also gave a chilling testimony: “I am 67 years old and I have live in the Amazonian region my entire life. I remember that our territory used to be a beauty, full of plants, birds, fish, trees—all in abundance; that was our home and also our livelihood. Well, now we have nothing. We have lost”, this artisan lamented.