Pope Francis visits Chile and Peru next week, a trip that was meant to focus on the concerns of indigenous people, but is likely to be overshadowed by the Church’s sex abuse scandal in Chile and political troubles in Peru.
Only a few days ahead of the trip, vandals in Chile firebombed three churches in the capital, Santiago, and left a note that read: “Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe.” Authorities say no one was hurt in any of the attacks early Friday and only minor damage was reported.
President Michelle Bachelet asked Chileans on Friday to receive Pope Francis in a “climate of respect,” and said it was not known who was behind the attacks.
“It’s very strange, because it’s not something you can identify as a specific group,” Bachelet said on national radio.
Francis, who is from Argentina and is the first Latin American pope, will arrive in Chile on Monday.
Chile’s Catholic churches have been struggling to improve their image after a sex scandal involving Rev. Fernando Karadima. The Vatican confirmed in 2011 that Karadima engaged in sexual abuse, and Pope Francis ignited controversy in 2015 when he named one of Karadima’s proteges as bishop of the southern diocese of Osorno. Victims of Karadima say the protege, Bishop Juan Barros, knew about the abuse but did nothing. Barros denies the claim.
Opponents of the Barros appointment are planning protests in Santiago on Monday to coincide with the pope’s arrival.
While in Santiago, Pope Francis is planning to hold an outdoor Mass for more than 500,000 people.
Francis is also planning to meet with indigenous groups to highlight their struggles. He will celebrate Mass for the Mapuche in southern Araucania province on Wednesday and meet with representatives from other indigenous groups at a private lunch.
The Mapuche group is not without controversy. Some radical members of the group have been staging violent protests including arson attacks at churches. Some of the pamphlets left Friday outside the firebombed churches in Santiago exhorted the Mapuche cause.
On Thursday, Francis travels to Peru where he also hopes to champion the rights of indigenous people and the need to protect the Amazon. However, the visit will likely be dominated by the country’s political crisis.
Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment a few weeks ago over a corruption scandal with the help of allies of former President Alberto Fujimori.
Soon after surviving the impeachment, Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori, who has served less than half of his 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses.
Critics of the president say the pardon was part of a backroom deal to avoid impeachment. Kuczynski denies the charge and says the pardon was for medical reasons and in the spirit of forgiveness.
Observers of the trip will likely watch to see if Pope Francis signals any concern over the pardon, or the corruption scandal engulfing the president. Francis often talks about the problems of corruption, saying that it hurts the poor the most. During a previous trip to Latin America, he called corruption “the plague.”
While in Peru, Pope Francis will also travel to the Amazonian town of Puerto Maldonado to focus on the problems facing Amazon indigenous communities struggling against deforestation.
Francis is planning to open a high-level church meeting on the Amazon in October 2019. The Synod on the Amazon will bring bishops and cardinals from around the world to the Vatican to discuss how to best help the Amazonian people.
Next week’s travels will be the pope’s 22nd oversees trip and the sixth to his home continent.