Just days before Pope Francis’ visit to Chile, three Catholic churches in the capital of Santiago were attacked by unknown assailants.
A fourth church – Christ the Poor Man Shrine – was targeted by a bomb threat and was subsequently investigated by a bomb squad.
Hours before, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in the Estación Central district was fire bombed. The arsonists fled the scene, leaving behind messages against the Holy Father’s visit to the country.
“Pope Francis, the next bombs will be in your cassock,” said a pamphlet left behind.
The community of priests that live at Saint Elizabeth’s and the neighbors immediately worked to extinguish the fire, which damaged the entrance doors and several windows.
Two other chapels in the city also suffered damage, including broken windows and doors.
At some of the churches, pamphlets were left behind, saying, “We will never submit to the dominion they want to exercise over our bodies, our ideas and actions because we were born free to decide the path we want to take…We are attacking with the fire of battle, making your disgusting morals explode.”
The pamphlets also called for “autonomy and resistance” in the Mapuche conflict. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group in the country. Many of them live in the region of Araucania, which Pope Francis will visit during his trip.
Chile incorporated Araucania by military conquest between 1861 and 1883, resulting in a major rift between the government and the Mapuche people. The tension continues to this day, with Mapuche communities calling for the return of ancestral lands, respect for their cultural identity, and in some cases, autonomy.
“This was a cowardly act. I’m upset, pained, because this is a poor community, a struggling community: these are people who don’t know the consequence of what they’re doing,” the parochial vicar Fr. Marcelo Cabezas lamented.
“On the other hand, if there are attacks, it’s because we’re having an impact as Catholics,” he said.
No one was injured in any of the attacks. Police investigators are on location to determine if the attacks were related.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Mahmud Aleuy, visited the damaged churches and said the Government of Chile will prosecute the offenders when found.
The Archdiocese of Santiago released a statement saying, “We are deeply pained by these incidents, which contradict the spirit of peace that animates the Pope’s visit to the country.”
“With humility and serenity we call on those who have committed these acts, which we consider in no way to represent the feeling of the vast majority of the population, to reflect on the need that exists for respect and tolerance among all, to build a homeland of brothers.”
Later in the morning, a group of protestors stormed the apostolic nunciature, before the police arrived and evicted them from the building.
Roxana Miranda, head of wrote a group that protests high mortgage rates, took responsibility for the nunciature protest in a Twitter statement. She said the group was protesting the cost of the papal visit.