International News

In Chile and Peru, Pope Faces Complex Politics

By Ines San Martin, Special to The Tablet

People walk near a banner with an image of Pope Francis on the facade of the cathedral in Lima, Peru, Jan. 3. On Jan. 15, Pope Francis will begin a six-day visit to Chile and Peru. (CNS photo/Mariana Bazo, Reuters)

ROME – When it comes to papal travel, more often than not, the news lies in the “what” of the trip: what message the pope wants to give a particular country, or even a continent, once he gets there. Other times, however, the news is in the “where,” meaning the message comes across loud and clear well before the pontiff actually arrives.

In the case of Pope Francis, there have been several trips in which the mere fact that he made them were all that needed saying. For instance, when he decided to visit the Mexican border with the United States in early 2016 to pray before a spot where immigrants have died trying to make the crossing, it didn’t require much gloss.

Next week, when he visits Latin America for the sixth time, his trip will unfold on multiple levels. He’s scheduled to be in Chile, Jan. 15-18, and then in neighboring Peru, Jan. 18-21, visiting six cities in as many days.

In Chile, President Michelle Bachellet and Pope Francis may have some things to clash over: from abortion and gay marriage, the first of which she’s legalized, to the pope’s assignment of an embattled bishop linked to child sexual abuse to a southern diocese.

In addition, the country recently held elections, and President Bachellet lost to her predecessor, conservative Sebastián Piñera, who’ll be retaking the office soon after the pope’s visit.

Presidential Pardon

Peru presents a similarly complex scenario from the get-go, with the Dec. 24 presidential pardon on medical grounds by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to former president Alberto Fujimori, who was in prison for human rights violations that a military death squad carried out under his watch. The issue has further divided Peruvian society, with many who think the pardon was extended as a political favor. It was granted three days after a legislative fraction led by Fujimori’s son refused to give the president’s foes the supermajority they needed to oust him.

The country is not free of its own case of clerical sexual abuse, even if in Peru the abuser is the lay founder of a conservative movement called Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. Luis Fernando Figari has been charged by Peruvian officials with “conspiracy to commit sexual, physical and psychological abuse,” and an order of preventive prison hangs over his head.

Hence both are countries currently heavily divided, with a deeply rooted Catholic Church that’s facing a loss in its credibility but which remains heavily present on many fronts, something Pope Francis is sure to address while he’s there if the mottos for his visit are any indication: “My peace I give you” in Chile, and “United in Hope” for Peru.

Yet the pope’s sixth visit to Latin America will touch on many other elements as well, with very specific themes he’ll want to address in each city.

The tour will begin in Santiago de Chile, where he’ll be staying for four nights in the nunciature, home of the papal representative in the country. Here he’ll meet the local authorities and deliver the customary speech to members of the civil society.

He’ll also say an open-air Mass at a local park, and 600,000 hosts are being prepared for this occasion. Also in Santiago he’ll meet with the local Catholic hierarchy, the priests, men and women religious, seminarians and novices and visit the shrine of St. Alberto Hurtado, a Chilean Jesuit canonized by Benedict XVI. As he always does, Pope Francis will also meet the local Jesuit community.

Indigenous Community

On the Jan. 17, he’ll head to the southern city of Temuco, the largest city of a region known as La Araucanía, where the Mapuche, an indigenous community, makes up 23 percent of the population.

The region has long been afflicted by a historic land conflict being fought by the Mapuche, who, despite long having had the support of the Catholic Church, have resorted to violence against the Church to make their point, burning at least 17 Christian churches in recent years.

Here, Pope Francis will lead a liturgy that’s being called “Mass for the Progress of the Peoples.” According to Father Patricio Trujillo, in charge of preparing the liturgy in Temuco, 23 Mapuche will participate in the ceremony, and “in the opportune moment go up to the stage and offer their prayers.”

The following day, the Argentine pope will head north, to the port city of Iquique, home of thousands of migrants who arrive in Chile from neighboring countries, fleeing poverty and hunger, and looking for better opportunities. The son of immigrants himself, Pope Francis has made this a pillar of his pontificate. The issue of a long-lasting conflict between Chile and Bolivia over an exit to the sea for the latter might also come up, or become the elephant in the room.

From Iquique, the pontiff will head straight to Lima, capital of Peru. On the morning of Jan. 19, he’ll hold the customary meetings with the civil authorities, and then fly off to Puerto Maldonado, a rain-forest city on the border with Brazil, defined by a bishop speaking with The Tablet as “one of the least important cities in the country.”

The Green Pope

Here, Pope Francis is expected to put on his green-pope hat and address the deforestation of the Amazon region, considered one of the world’s lungs, but also several human rights issues, including white slave trade, another cornerstone in the pope’s social agenda.

On Jan. 20, he’ll head to the northwestern city of Trujillo, capital of a region that was heavily affected by flooding last year. Many lost their lives, and tens of thousands have been living in tents since then, after losing everything. In the afternoon, Pope Francis is scheduled to host a Marian celebration, and some 20 images that inspire a strong popular devotion will be brought from different towns for the occasion.

Lastly, before departing Peru, the pope will say Mass in Lima and honor the relics of several Peruvian saints, including St. Rose of Lima, the first saint of the Americas, and St. Martin de Porres.

At the end of the day, he’ll head back to Rome, and if he holds true to form, he’ll give an in-flight press conference rounding up the visit.

NET-TV’s Live Coverage of Papal Trip

Currents’ Liz Faublas will anchor NET-TV’s coverage of Pope Francis’ pastoral visit to Chile and Peru, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 16.

She will be joined by Tablet Editor Ed Wilkinson, Acting Assistant Editor Jorge Dominguez, Tablet national correspondent Christopher White, and Father Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D., pastor of Holy Family parish, the U.N. parish on Manhattan’s East Side.

In addition, there will be live coverage of all the major events on the pope’s itinerary with various guest commentators, local reports, as well as direct reports from reporters on the scene in South America.

The full schedule of the papal coverage can be found in this weekend’s pullout media guide.

Ines San Martin will be on the papal plane and will provide The Tablet with daily reports that will be posted on