By Devin Watkins
Unidentified vandals attacked four Catholic churches in Chile before dawn on Friday in the capital, Santiago de Chile.
The attacks took place just three days before Pope Francis arrives for his 22nd Apostolic Visit abroad on 15-18 January.
Vandals set fire to three churches with homemade firebombs, causing minor damage. They also left behind flyers warning that the next firebomb would target Pope Francis.
A fourth church was attacked with what appeared to be an explosive device, but the bomb was defused and no damage was sustained.
Assailants left a message written on the wall near the church’s entrance questioning expenses for the papal trip while the “poor are dying”.
Chilean authorities say no one was hurt in any of the attacks and that no group has claimed responsibility.
Separately, a group of anarchists led by the former presidential candidate, Roxana Miranda, briefly occupied the Apostolic Nunciature, according to local news agencies, apparently to protest against the “millions spent” on Pope Francis’ visit.
Reaction to the attacks
Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago, said, “These acts, rather than creating distress, give our hearts a greater sense of expectation and hope. We know the love of Christ overcomes all obstacles.”
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet condemned the attacks, assuring the government would do all in its power to protect the Pope.
Speaking to Radio Oasis, President Bachelet said, “In a democracy, people can express themselves as long as it's done in a pacifist way.”
The Archdiocese of Santiago in a statement said the attacks “contradict the spirit of peace which animates the Pope’s visit to the country”.
“We humbly and calmly ask that those who perpetrated these acts – which we know do not represent the feelings of the majority of the population –reflect on the importance of respect and tolerance among all, so as to build a nation of brothers and sisters,” it read.
Finally, the statement invites “all Catholics”, members of other religions, and “all men and women of goodwill to renew their joy and to participate in next week’s celebrations, along with the Holy Father, who is bringing us a message of hope and love for all.”