Health & Spirit

Pope Francis arrives in Chile, honors 'bishop of poor'

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Pope Francis arrived here in the Chilean capital Monday evening to start a weeklong swing through Chile and Peru in which he is expected to highlight the plight of indigenous peoples, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the precarious status of immigrants and the poor.

In an eleventh-hour schedule shift, Francis stopped in Santiago at the tomb of a Chilean prelate who was known as the "bishop of the poor" and who aided those seeking loved ones detained during Chile's former military dictatorship.

Francis was welcomed at Santiago's international airport by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. A children's orchestra celebrated his arrival on the tarmac as the pope, who was born in neighboring Argentina, listened with a broad smile and an aide held his cassock against a blustery wind.

The 81-year-old pope, known for his low-key style, took the passenger seat of a blue Hyundai sedan. The car traveled from the airport through the streets of the capital in a convoy of white SUVs as tens of thousands of well-wishers, many waving Vatican and Chilean flags, lined the streets.

His first stop, in the working-class Pudahuel district at the tomb of Chilean Bishop Enrique Alvear Urrutia, the bishop of the poor, seemed fitting.

When Francis became pope in 2013, he vowed to lead a "poor church for the poor," embracing the values that many here say Alvear embodied.


Alvear, who died in 1982 and is a candidate for sainthood, was a fierce defender of human rights, notably during the initial years of the military dictatorship that ruled from 1973 to 1990 and was headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. It was an epoch when many assailed the church leadership for failing to speak out against the abuses of the government.

But Alvear was undeterred, despite death threats and the constant risk of arrest.

He would show up at detention and torture centers -- including the notorious Villa Grimaldi in Santiago -- in search of the "disappeared."

The stop at the bishop's tomb, announced shortly before the papal plane left Rome for Santiago, raised the question of whether Francis will speak about the victims of the dictatorship during his visit.


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