Pope Begins Latin America Visit in Chile Monday

   •    15 Januari 2018 16:22 WIB
americas (en)
Pope Begins Latin America Visit in Chile Monday
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Santiago on his first visit to Chile since becoming pope, and his sixth to Latin America, before going on to Peru. (Photo:AFP/Ernesto Benavides)

Santiago: Pope Francis arrives in Santiago on Monday at the beginning of a testing weeklong visit to Chile and Peru that aims to boost a flagging local Church hit by child sex abuse scandals.

The pope set off from Rome's Fiumicino airport shortly before 9am (0800 GMT) and is scheduled to arrive in Santiago at 8:10 pm (2310 GMT) on his first visit to Chile since becoming pope, and his sixth to Latin America.

The 81-year-old Argentine pontiff will find a very different Chile than the one he first encountered as a student priest in the 1960s.

Socialist President Michelle Bachelet has presided over major change in the once deeply-conservative country, decriminalizing abortion, recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples and introducing a bill to legalize gay marriage.

The Catholic Church has been buffeted by the same winds of change, with numbers dropping to 67 percent, while the number of atheists has risen to 22 percent. Up to 90 percent of the population of neighboring Peru is Catholic.

Preparations for the visit have been overshadowed by a recent report that almost 80 members of the Chilean clergy have been accused of the sexual abuse of minors since 2000, more than half of them convicted by a Vatican court.

The Chile Bishops' Conference acknowledged Friday that Francis had recommended in a 2015 letter removing three bishops linked to Fernando Karadima, an influential priest who the Vatican convicted of abusing children in 2011, but the bid ultimately failed.

"The Church has problems and is in the throes of trying to reaffirm itself, pointing to the need to strengthen the family and the rejection of abortion and homosexual marriage, but at the same time riven by internal problems, including priests who have been involved in sexual abuse," said University of Santiago sociologist Cristian Parker.

Protests planned 

During the three days he will remain in Chile, Francis will meet with victims of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, though there are no formal plans to meet victims of pedophile priests.

Bachelet, who will meet Francis on Tuesday, has called on Chileans to welcome the pope, though a positive reception may not be universal.

On Friday, three Catholic Churches in the capital were firebombed by what police said was an anarchist group. Demonstrations are planned by feminist and gay rights groups.

The highlight of the three-day visit will be an open air mass in a Santiago city park on Tuesday.

Another is due at the airport in Temuco, the capital of the impoverished southern Araucania region on Wednesday. He is to expected to draw attention to state persecution of the indigenous Mapuche people and also meet members of the community.

Mapuche natives, some seven percent of the Chilean population, inhabited a vast territory before the arrival of Spanish colonists in 1541, and have long protested the loss of ancestral lands.

During his visit to Chile, the pope will also meet representative of the poor and young people, as well as visit a women's prison.

The authorities expect an influx of nearly a million Argentines, Bolivians and Peruvians in Chile to see the pope.

Around 18,000 police and security forces have been mobilized for the pope, who almost five years into his papacy has yet to visit his native Argentina.

On Thursday, the pope will travel to Iquique in the north of the country, where he will preside over another open air mass, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, before traveling on to Peru's capital Lima.

Peru is in the throes of a political crisis sparked by a controversial pardon for ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, as well as another abuse scandal involving the clergy. (AFP)