TEMUCO, Chile -- Pope Francis denounced the use of violence to achieve political gains as he traveled Wednesday to the heart of Chile's centuries-old conflict with indigenous people, where several church burnings have been blamed on radical Mapuche factions pressing for their cause.
Hours after two more churches and three helicopters were torched, Francis celebrated Mass at a former military base that not only lies on contested indigenous Mapuche land but was also a former detention center used during Chile's brutal dictatorship.
Leading about 150,000 people in a moment of silent prayer, Francis said the fertile green fields and snow-capped mountains of the Mapuche heartland in Chile's southern Araucania region were blessed by God and cursed by man, the site of "grave human-rights violations" during the 1973-90 dictatorship.
"We offer this Mass for all those who suffered and died, and for those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices," he said.
Francis also referred to the more recent violence that has flared in Araucania, Chile's poorest region. No one has claimed responsibility for the 11 firebombs that have damaged, or in some cases, burned churches to the ground in recent days, or the three helicopters that were torched overnight.
Prosecutor Enrique Vasquez told local media Wednesday that investigators found a sign and pamphlets demanding the release of Mapuche prisoners at the scene of the burned church, while pro-Mapuche pamphlets were found at the scene of the burned helicopters.
The Argentine Jesuit pope took radical factions to task, saying violence isn't the answer to their grievances.
"You cannot assert yourselves by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division," he said in his homily. "Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie."
At the same time, he demanded that the government not just negotiate "elegant" agreements with the indigenous, but actually implement them.
The Argentine pope is particularly attuned to indigenous issues and their campaigns for recognition of their land, culture and traditions. He hopes to use his weeklong trip to Chile and Peru to put the issue on the global agenda and set the stage for a big church meeting next year on the Amazon and for native people who live there.
In that sense, the Maquehue Air Base was a symbolically poignant site for his Mass dedicated to the region's indigenous people, built on land taken from the Mapuche in the early 20th century. And the Mass was full of Mapuche culture and symbolism, with traditional music and prayers sprinkled throughout.
The base was used as a detention center during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, during which about 40,000 people were killed, tortured or imprisoned.
Francis had raised the plight of the indigenous in his first speech on Tuesday to government authorities, urging Chileans to listen to indigenous people who are "often forgotten, whose rights and culture need to be protected lest that part of this nation's identity and richness be lost."
Those initial statements were already reverberating among many in the Mapuche community when Francis celebrated the Mass.
Information for this article was contributed by Peter Prengaman and Mauricio Cuevas of The Associated Press
A Section on 01/18/2018
Print Headline: Pope speaks to Chilean divisions, condemns attacks