Chileans plant bombs in protest of pope’s visit
SANTIAGO, CHILE >> Firebombs exploded before dawn Friday at three churches in Santiago, Chile’s capital, an act of violence aimed at Pope Francis, who is to begin a weeklong visit to Chile and Peru on Monday. The police defused two other explosive devices that failed to detonate outside other churches later in the day.
No one was injured, and only minor physical damage was reported. President Michelle Bachelet appealed for calm, urging Chileans to welcome the first papal visit since John Paul II visited Chile in 1987. “I also want to invite you all to experience this visit in a climate of respect, solidarity and happiness,” Bachelet said in a statement.
No organization immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but pamphlets left at the sites of the first three bombings alluded to several issues, including the plight of the Mapuche, an indigenous people who have been battling loggers and farmers in the impoverished region of Araucania in southern Chile.
Early on Wednesday, Pope Francis is to fly to Temuco, capital of the Araucania region, about 400 miles south of Santiago. The government has intensified security measures there, with more than 4,000 additional police officers and special forces troops, even though Francis is expected to stay only for a few hours.
The pope will hold a religious service at the Temuco airport. Monsignor Hector Vargas Bastidas, bishop of Temuco, told the news agency ACI Prensa that the pope wanted to visit “existential borders, where there is pain, where there is suffering, where there are wounds, where there is poverty.”
But several militant indigenous groups see the Roman Catholic Church as being closely associated with the history of oppression, and they have staged arson attacks against churches in the region. In November, hooded activists set fire to a bus and scattered pamphlets after the pope’s visit to the region was announced.