By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis’s upcoming apostolic visit to Chile and Peru will take him to regions which are not only their country’s poorest and most peripheral, but where environmental issues and demands for indigenous land rights have even led to unrest and violence.
22nd Apostolic Visit Abroad
During a briefing for journalists in the Vatican, Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke illustrated the journey that takes place from 15 to 22 January, pointing out it will be Francis’ 22nd apostolic visit abroad and at the end of it, he will have visited 33 nations.
He said Francis knows the two countries well, having spent one and a half years in Chile during his novitiate and having travelled to Peru on various occasions. He also said he knows all of the bishops whom have recently undertaken their “ad limina” visits to Rome.
The Pope’s weeklong journey is of course a pastoral one. As Francis highlighted in his video-message of greeting just ahead of his departure, he emphasized how he is coming to share the peace and the hope of the Lord in the spirit and joy of the Gospel.
Environment and rights of Indigenous Peoples
But, Burke confirmed the environmental aspect of the journey and issues pertaining to the rights of indigenous peoples are clearly one of the main themes of the journey.
In Chile the Pope will travel to the southern Araucania region where Mapuche communities have been stripped of their land repeatedly - first by Spanish colonists, then by settlers who moved to the region to farm, and more recently by timber plantations. It is here, in the city of Temuco that the Pope will celebrate Mass together with groups of indigenous peoples and then share lunch with their representatives and with the Bishop of Temuco.
On the second leg of his journey, Francis is scheduled to meet with Amazonian indigenous people in the city of Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s southeastern Madre de Dios region. It’s a particularly symbolic venue as the city is seen as the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon that covers almost 60% of the nation’s territory and is increasingly being exploited by the extractive and timber industries that, in turn, are forcing more and more indigenous tribes from their ancestral lands and livelihoods.
It is also where gold mining has left large expanses of barren land and pit mines, an activity which has led to forced labor, trafficking of women and girls for prostitution, and one of the highest murder rates in the country.
Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region
This event in particular is seen as a window on the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region which will take place in the Vatican in October 2019. That’s why Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to host the event together with members of REPAM: the Pan-Amazonian Church Network.
In both countries, as per protocol, Pope Francis will engage in meetings with political authorities. He will also meet with bishops, priests, religious and lay people, he will celebrate 5 Holy Masses, dedicate time and prayer to Marian celebrations, to honoring local Saints, and to meeting with his Jesuit brothers.
He will dedicated much time, as he always does, to meeting with the people, especially the young, the poor and those in vulnerable situations like prison inmates and the urban poor living in slums as well as those affected by the El Nino in Peru who have lost lands and homes in flooding and mudslides.
To the question: ‘will the Pope be meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse in Chile?’, Burke answered there is nothing on the programme to that regard, but - he said - everything is possible, and what’s more: “unscheduled meetings are often the best!”