Health & Spirit

More violence reported as Pope Francis visits homeland of Mapuche indigenous group in Chile

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

SANTIAGO, Chile -- Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Wednesday in the homeland of Chile's Mapuche indigenous community, paying tribute to a group that has been engaged in a sometimes violent struggle to bolster autonomy and reclaim lost ancestral lands.

In the third day of his swing through Chile and Peru, Francis flew to the city of Temuco, 420 miles south of the capital, Santiago, in Chile's heavily forested Araucania region.

The somber Mass -- which featured indigenous themes and mixed European and indigenous melodies -- was held on the sprawling grounds of an airfield that was previously a military base.

Mapuche activists say the land where the airfield is situated was taken from them, part of what the group calls more than a century of land grabs that have left their ancestral terrain greatly reduced.

The base also reportedly served as a detention and torture center during the military dictatorship that ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990.

The picturesque Araucania zone, "has a sorrow that cannot be silenced, the injustice of centuries," the pope said.

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The pope's visit has seen an uptick in attacks on churches and other targets in the Araucania area and in the capital.

A number of new attacks were reported overnight Tuesday in southern Chile, including the shooting of a police officer, the torching of two Catholic chapels and the destruction of two stationary helicopters belonging to a forestry company. The police officer, who was wearing body armor, was not seriously injured, said authorities, who vowed a brisk response to violence.

"There will be no weakness" toward those engaged in such attacks, Gen. Bruno Villalobos, head of Chile's national police force, the Carabineros, told reporters.

The pope began Wednesday's Mass reciting some words in the Mapuche language.


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