Pope Francis flays violence in rights agitation

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Pope Francis with his injured face
Pope Francis

Pope Francis currently on visit to Chile, has denounced the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights.

He made the appeal on Wednesday while celebrating mass in a restive region of Chile hours after assailants firebombed churches and other targets.

The Argentine-born pontiff was shining the spotlight on the simmering conflict between the state and the Mapuche people, who centuries ago controlled vast areas of Chile but have since been marginalized.

“You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” the pope said, speaking before thousands of faithful at an airfield in Temuco, the capital of the southern Araucania region.

“Violence begets violence, destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie,” the pope warned.

Unidentified assailants hurled incendiary devices at three Catholic churches and an evangelical Christian church in pre-dawn attacks Wednesday in the Araucania region.

Five other churches had previously been hit by arsonists in Chile’s capital Santiago.

A forestry company helicopter also was torched during the night, and a policeman was shot and wounded by a group of hooded assailants, authorities said.

The aim was to “cause disorder or disturbance of the public order” during the pope’s visit to Temuco, said Chilean police chief Bruno Villalobos.

At the pope’s first stop in Santiago — his first to Chile as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics — he faced protests over the church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse.

In Temuco, however, the papal spotlight turned to the Mapuche, who account for seven per cent of Chile’s population but hold only five per cent of their ancestral lands.


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