Everything is on track as Chile prepares to welcome Pope Francis’ arrival to Santiago on January 15th. His departure for Peru, the second leg of the Papal visit to Latin America, is scheduled for the 18th. Despite the complex challenges faced by the Country and its Church today, a high number of people are expected to participate in the event, signalling what is likely to be a warm welcome by this part of the planet, homeland of Bergoglio. In fact over 1 200,000 people are due to arrive from throughout the Country and from Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. After Santiago the Pope will stop in Iquique (in the far North of the Country, near the border with Peru) and in Temuco (in the South, the land of the Mapuche ethnicity), covering in three days the record-breaking distance of 5 thousand kilometres in this narrow stretch of land bordering on the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of people – mostly youths – have offered to help in the preparations of the major events. On Saturday January 13 some 8 thousand “volunteers” will attend the “Mass of sending” celebrated at Movistar Arena by Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, Archbishop of Santiago. Here the volunteers will receive the official accreditation and a “kit” that includes a bib, backpack, handbook and sunscreen. The same excited anticipation is experienced in Temuco and Iquique – two events in the volunteers’ timetable -: in Iquique on Saturday, January 12 at Arturo Prat University, with a Eucharistic celebration presided over by monsignor Guillermo Vera Soto, in Temuco on January 15 with the celebration of Holy Mass at the La Salle School. A staff of 14 youths are in charge of coordinating communication for over 1500 journalists accredited to follow the papal visit. They will be under the supervision of Father Felipe Herrera, in charge of the Communication department of the national Commission for the apostolic visit. SIR interviewed him.
Father Herrera, what’s the atmosphere in Santiago on the eve of the visit?
There is great joy for the arrival of the Holy Father, not only in Santiago but throughout all of Chile.
Over the past 5 years we experienced a steadily growing social divide, fuelled by an increasingly individualistic culture and an economic development that left many people on the “peripheries” of society, as Pope Francis says. We have always repeated that the Pope is not coming only for the Church but for the whole of Chile. He will be here to help us renew this society wounded by divides, to establish renewed cohesion. We look forward to his arrival with joy and with great hope.
A survey carried out by the “Latin-American barometer” shows that only 36% of the Chilean people continue to have faith in the Catholic Church, signalling a 43% drop compared to 2010. Will the Pope be met with a cold Chile despite the warm summer climate there? In the past two years Chile has experienced a general, progressive crisis marked by feelings of estrangement from all institutions, and thus this decline was experienced not only by the Church. However, also the Catholic Church experienced a crisis due to sexual scandals that involved her directly and the bishops that were unable to respond appropriately. Thus, indeed there is an estrangement, a drop in credibility. Chile is a Country that developed in an atmosphere of conspicuous secularism, in some cases very aggressive forms of secularism. But at the same time, people are seeking innermost renewal. To respond to this thirst for renewal the Pope is asking us to be faithful to the Gospel and go out, rather than a numerical growth the Holy Father is inviting us to facilitate the relationship between God and mankind. It obviously hurts to see that people have stopped going to church. But this pain can be lived either like a catastrophe or like a great opportunity.
We are not interested in the success of numbers, we want people to meet God.
Thus the question is how to act as a bridge between the Lord and the people, especially among those who were most deeply hurt by the Church. It’s a challenge for us, it’s a major opportunity that we are given by Francis’ visit.
Another delicate point of the visit is the indigenous population, the Mapuche. There were also violent demonstrations over requests that have been completely ignored. What will the Pope say in this respect?
The Chilean State and society are deeply indebted with all indigenous populations and with the Mapuche people.
The Church has always fought for their dignity and their recognition as a different people integrated within Chilean society. In this respect we have always acted as spearheads. A small minority of this people have chosen violence to reaffirm their claims. But the Mapuche people are a beautiful people. You want to know what we expect from the Pope? Francis is not a negotiator, he doesn’t come here to give instructions on what should or shouldn’t be done. The Pope is coming as a messenger of Christ, he brings the Word. Laudato si’ speaks at length of indigenous populations, thus we look forward to his words that will unquestionably help us welcome their diversity and richness and support indigenous populations in their claims for recognition. For sure – as previously mentioned – those will not be political words. As always, the Pope will speak about faith, a faith that is not lived socially, it isn’t real. He will propose paths to achieve justice and pacification. Ultimately, the responsibility of the Pope’s words will be ours, it will repose on the ways in which we will welcome his words so they may deliver concrete fruits.
Which message does Chile expect from Francis? As states the motto of this apostolic visit: “I give you my peace.” This is what we need: a deep-rooted peace for Chile, to mend all divisions. But this peace will come only if there is justice. Pope Francis Pope Francis can enlighten our path to attain a fruit-bearing justice. It’s the precious gift we will receive from the Holy Father.