SANTIAGO, Chile (ViaNews) – Monday, Pope Francis arrived at night to Santiago de Chile for a three-day state visit, amidst unprecedented protests and incidents.
Upon his arrival, incidents were registered in small Parishes and would continue during his visit to the country.
The outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet, headed the welcoming ceremony to Pope Francis in Santiago de Chile. Then the Pope drove Santiago for the first time in his Popemobile, before heading to the Apostolic Nunciature, where the Bishop of Rome is staying.
The Argentine Pope who in previous visits to South American has been to Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia, has found in Chile – a country where the Catholic religion represents less than half of the population today – mixed emotions.
Tuesday, since the early hours in the morning over 500,000 Christians started to gather in O’Higgins Park, waiting to attend to the first mass celebrated in Chile by the pontiff, the “Misa por la Paz y la Justicia.” An hour before its beginning, a group of an estimated 300 people started a protest against the Pope´s visit.
The government costs with the Pope´s visit are said to have raised to an estimated ten million dollars (on top of the six million covered by the Vatican). Those costs are attributed to security (video security surveillance, guards, helicopters) and communication expenses, among others.
Protesters also brought attention to the Pedophilia cases involving priests in the Chilean church and for which Pope Francis asked for forgiveness.
The Pope´s visit has been scheduled a year in advance, and despite the fact that the percentage of Catholics has decreased in the country through recent years – mostly due to the sexual abuse scandals – such a hostile environment was not expected.
Over 50 people have been arrested by local authorities during the protests, at times, water-driven cars were used to suppress the protesters.
Following a tight agenda, the Pope also visited La Moneda, Father Alberto Hurtado sanctuary, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. On the Pontiff first visit to a women’s prison, Pope Francis met with people deprived of their liberty of the Women’s Penitentiary Center.
Wednesday – Temuco, Araucanía
Three Catholic churches and one Evangelical have been burned intentionally in the region of Araucanía, which city capital is Temuco. Pope Francis traveled to the area for the celebration of his second mass, “Misa por el progreso de los Pueblos”.
The mass took place among significant military presence, – over 4000 agents were deployed to the area – at the aerodrome of Maquehue, where an estimated of 150.000 people attended the mass.
La Araucanía is a conflict area. For decades, the Mapuches, a native community has been claiming the restoration of ancestral lands that are now in private hands (with forestry or agricultural companies).
Violence has lately increased with the Chilean state applying the anti-terrorism law to repress the conflict, causing international rejection.
The Pope tried to act as a mediator between the Mapuche community and the Chilean State, demanding an end to the violence.
“Violence makes the fairest of the causes turn into a liar one,” said Pope Francis during the mass.
Later in the day, the Pontiff returned to Santiago to visit the Catholic University, where he met with about 20.000 young people.
Thursday – Iquique
Today the Pope makes his last stop in Chilean soil with a visit to the city of Iquique, where he will celebrate the third mass before continuing his trip with a three-day state visit to Perú.
The last visit of a Pope to Chile happened back in 1987 when John Paul II traveled to the country still under the dictatorship regime of Augusto Pinochet.