The hopes and fears of Chile and Peru’s indigenous Mapuche people hang in a balance as the pope makes his final arrangements for his visit to the South American countries next week.
The official trip will begin January 17 with the recitation of a mass “for the Progress of the Peoples” in the Chilean city of Araucania, the most impoverished region of the country.
Critics doubt the effectiveness of the papal visit, saying it might distract from the tribes’ social rights movements in defense of cultural rights and denouncing human rights violations.
As state employees prepare for the papal visit, demands for land restitution and sustainable development projects are being pushed to the side despite severe overcrowding, poverty and debt in Indigenous sectors.
The indigenous people have been locked in a tight land dispute for decades with many in the community being targeted and persecuted for standing up and defending their right to openly practice their customs and advocating for their cultural identity to be recognized.
The pope's visit comes ahead of the highly controversial indictment of Francisca Linconao, one of the 11 Mapuche under investigation for the 2013 double homicide of Wener Luchsinger and Vivianne Mackay.
Eleven Mapuche were arrested and charged after a lengthy four-year investigation. The Chilean Criminal Court acquitted the indigenous community members on November 14 for insufficient evidence.
However, a complaint to the Court of Appeals by Jorge Luchsinger MacKay, the son of the murdered couple, reopened the investigation.
According to the Bishop of Temuco, Hector Vargas, the pope’s visit is motivated by three main issues:
1. To spread awareness of the indigenous communities to the public and to state administrators.
2. To address the Mapuche conflict which has seen hundreds tortured, killed and persecuted over the last decades as well as led to the destruction of 13 Catholic churches
3. Finally, to bring awareness to the country’s most impoverished region, Araucania, the holy father’s first stop in his trip.
Others have stated the pope hopes to mend the broken trust in the communities after various priests were found to be guilty of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct and child rape. Santiago residents are expected to launch protests to demand the pope’s position on the sexual and power abuse be made public in the past years.
"No matter how you look at it, those cases have been horrendous, scandalous, and the church has lost credibility," said Chilean native Paredes.
Among the region’s top offences is the case of the priest of the upper class and the Chilean right, Fernando Karadima, who abused and raped children and young people; or Father Gerardo Joannon, who made several illegal adoptions by deceiving the biological parents of the babies that he later gave to other families.