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In Chile and Peru pope tackles tough issues urges compassion and unity

LIMA (CNS): A weeklong pastoral visit to Chile and Peru saw Pope Francis tackling many a politically charged issue. Addressing large audiences that included political leaders, he denounced human trafficking, decried environmental destruction, corruption and organised crime.
A call for unity was his focal point, thrusting for dialogue and coexistence in each of the two countries, which have been marked by political tension and sometimes violent conflicts. Invoking Mary, the pope called for compassion, which he also demonstrated as he blessed a Chilean prisoner’s unborn baby and consoled people who lost their homes in devastating floods a year ago on Peru’s northern coast.
He also acknowledged that the Church must address its own problems, including sexual abuse, corruption and internal divisions. “The kingdom of heaven means finding in Jesus a God who gets involved with the lives of his people,” he said.
In Chile, Pope Francis met with young people, celebrated Mass among indigenous people, and travelled to the northern desert city of Iquique to meet the with migrants.
In Peru, he celebrated Mass in Lima and travelled to the northern coastal city of Trujillo, which suffered disastrous flooding a year ago, and Puerto Maldonado, in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.
In both countries, the pope met with indigenous people and young people, clearly with an eye toward the Synod of Bishops on Youth and the synod for the Amazon in 2019. He repeatedly referred to the importance of the earth, calling it “our common home,” as he did in the encyclical, Laudato Si’. “The defence of the earth has no other purpose than the defence of life,” he said.
The papal visit came at a time when various countries, including Peru, are reeling from revelations of corruption. Pope Francis called corruption a “social virus, a phenomenon that infects everything, with the greatest harm being done to the poor and mother earth.”
He warned political and civic leaders in both countries against the seduction of the false gods of money and power and urged them to maintain unity by listening to their people, including native peoples, with their ties to the earth, as well as young people, migrants, the unemployed, children and the elderly.
The pope stressed the inextricable bonds between humans and the environment, telling leaders in Chile that “a people that turns its back on the land, and everything and everyone on it, will never experience real development.”
Both countries have seen violent clashes in recent years over large-scale development projects in indigenous territories. There have been clashes between protesters and police, and attacks against landowners.
Churches, both Catholic and evangelical, also have been burned. Four churches in Santiago were firebombed just before Pope Francis’ visit, and a chapel south of Temuco was set ablaze three days after his visit.
Rejecting “acts of violence and destruction that end up taking human lives,” the pope also spoke out against the signing of “elegant agreements that will never be put into practice,” which he said is also violence, “because it frustrates hope.”
In Peru, 34 people died and hundreds were injured in protests by indigenous groups in June 2009, after the government passed a series of laws that could have given timber, mining and other industries easier access to indigenous people’s lands. At the time, then-president, Alan Garcia, said indigenous people were blocking development in the Amazon.
He linked the survival of native cultures—especially groups that continue to shun contact with the outside world, many of which live along the border between Peru and Brazil—to protection of the earth.
“Native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present,” he said. “We have to break with the historical paradigm that views Amazonia as an inexhaustible source of supplies for other countries without concern for its inhabitants.”
The pope also linked environmental destruction to social problems, mentioning unregulated gold mining that has devastated forests and been accompanied by human trafficking for prostitution and labour.
He called attention to violence against women, urging his listeners to combat the violence that happens “behind walls” and “femicide,” the murder of women because they are women, usually perpetrated by men.
In Chile, he urged them to make everyday decisions about their actions by asking, “What would Christ do?”
In a moving encounter with youngsters in a home for abandoned and orphaned children founded and directed by a Swiss missionary priest in Puerto Maldonado, the pope asked their forgiveness for “those times when we adults have not cared for you and when we did not give you the importance you deserve.”
As on all his trips, the pope met with priests, religious and seminarians, urging them to remember their roots, embrace the wounded world, maintain hope and spread joy.
Speaking with bishops, he addressed problems that included sexual abuse and divisions within the Church.
In his public remarks to politicians in Chile and Peru, the pope acknowledged the harm done by sexual abuse, as well as the need to fight corruption not only in the public sphere, but also in the Church.
Speaking to bishops in Chile, he warned against clericalism that stems from a “lack of consciousness of belonging to God’s faithful people as servants, and not masters.”
“A failure to realise that the mission belongs to the entire Church and not to the individual priest or bishop, limits the horizon, and even worse, stifles all the initiatives that the Spirit may be awakening in our midst,” he said.
He urged Peru’s bishops to follow the missionary St. Turibius’ example of being close to the people, learning the local language and culture, being a pastor to his priests and encouraging unity.
“Dear brothers, work for unity,” Pope Francis told the bishops. “Do not remain prisoners of divisions that create cliques and hamper our vocation to be a sacrament of communion.”
He also reminded the bishops that the saint had made enemies of those in power by confronting “a whole system of corruption and a web of interests” in colonial Peru.

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