Temuco, Chile – Pope Francis took the Chilean state and the country’s largest indigenous group to task Wednesday over their failure to forge a truly unified nation, saying the government must do more than just negotiate “elegant” agreements and radical Mapuche factions must stop violence.
Francis’ pointed homily in the heart of Chile’s restive Araucania region came hours after two more churches and three helicopters were torched — attacks blamed on Mapuche radical groups demanding the return of ancestral lands and the release of Mapuche prisoners. No arrests have been made.
The outdoor Mass at the Maquehue Air Base was steeped in symbolism because of its own history: The land was taken from the Mapuche in the early 20th century and the location was also used as a detention and torture facility in the early years of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship.
Leading some 150,000 people in a moment of silent prayer, Francis said the fertile green fields and snow-capped mountains of the Mapuche heartland in Chile’s southern Araucania region were both blessed by God and cursed by man, the site of “grave human rights violations” during the 1973-1990 dictatorship.
“We offer this Mass for all those who suffered and died, and for those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices,” he said.
Francis also referred to the recent violence that has flared in Araucania, Chile’s poorest region, and beyond. No one has claimed responsibility for the 11 firebombs that have damaged, or in some cases, burned churches to the ground in several parts of Chile in recent days. Investigators have found pamphlets promoting the Mapuche cause at some of the torched churches and by the helicopters set ablaze overnight.
The Argentine Jesuit pope took radical factions to task, saying violence wasn’t the answer to their grievances.
“You cannot assert yourselves by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” he admonished in his homily. “Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”
At the same time, he demanded the government not just negotiate “elegant” agreements with indigenous peoples, but actually implement them.
He called such accords that yield nothing a form of violence “because it frustrates hope.”
After the Mass, Francisca Linconao, a Mapuche leader who has been implicated in the burning deaths of a couple in 2013, tried to approach Francis as he passed in his popemobile, but police kept her away. She said she wanted to give him an open letter asking him to intervene in the long-standing conflict and proclaiming her innocence.
“The pope could speak, could mediate in Araucania region about the situation of the Mapuche who are being incarcerated,” Linconao told The Associated Press.
The Argentine pope is particularly attuned to indigenous issues and their campaigns for recognition of their land, culture and traditions. He hopes to use his weeklong trip to Chile and Peru to put the issue on the global agenda and set the stage for a church meeting next year on the Amazon and native peoples who live there.
The Mass was replete with Mapuche cultural references and symbolism, with traditional music and prayers sprinkled throughout. The pope uttered Mapuche greetings throughout his homily.
The world’s first Latin American pope knows well the conflict-ridden modern history of his home continent: He was a young Jesuit superior during neighboring Argentina’s “Dirty War,” when thousands of suspected leftists were killed, imprisoned or disappeared at the hands of the military junta.
In Chile, the government estimates 3,095 people were killed, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared. Some of them washed ashore along the river that runs through Maquehue.
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