IT WAS 30 years ago, that St. John Paul II visited the country—now it is Pope Francis’ turn. He will spend four days in Chile, Jan., 15-18, 2018. This Pope like a challenge: according to Javier Peralta, the executive director of the national commission organizing the papal visit, Francis prefers to travel to places that are, at least in part, beset by dire problems.
The densely packed program of the Pope features visits to three cities. The first stop will be the capital city of Santiago, home of almost half of Chile’s inhabitants. Next, he will travel to Temuco in the Araucanía region where the so-called “Mapuche conflict” rages. This indigenous ethnic group is using violence to claim its rights. The visit will conclude in Iquique in the northern part of the country, which is home to many migrants, whose needs present a great challenge to Chileans.
Here is the assessment of Carlos Valenzuela, the director of our office in Chile: “We are convinced that his visit will not leave us indifferent. His message will deeply penetrate into the hearts of Chileans. We hope that, in his role as a messenger of peace, he will not only do good for Catholics, but also for society as a whole. After all, he is seeking unity and peace. He is dedicated to helping those in need and those who are suffering.”
Grave divisions mark Chile today. Compared to when John Paul came to Chile, people have far less faith in institutions, the Catholic Church, which has come under fire for its handling of priestly sex abuse cases. Bishop Fernando Ramos, the national coordinator for the papal visit, put it thus: “The situation in our society is very tense. This can be seen by the disastrous mood that pervades society, a diminished respect for social dialogue, an increasing difficulty in reaching national agreements as well as an all-pervasive mutual distrust that makes encounters and dialogue almost impossible in the country.”
Pope Francis chose “My peace I give you” as the motto for his visit. The Chilean Church has paved the way for this by tirelessly setting a good example. It is working to promote encounters based on fraternal dialogue and an appreciation for the value of life. The protection of life in all circumstances has played a key role in the social conflicts of the past few months.
“A papal visit is a tremendous gift. Jesus Christ himself is touching our hearts in the guise of Francis,” María Covarrubias, the president of the Chilean office of Aid to the Church in Need, explained. She added: “For a country that has been painfully hit by the legalization of abortion, the papal visit brings renewed hope to the lives of Christians. God has chosen us as the protagonists of the future, a future which we should meet with faith and trust in God. The fruits of the papal visit will depend on the reception that each individual Chilean prepares for him in his or her heart.”
A key area of our work in Chile is supporting the training of seminarians and permanent deacons. Thanks to a large number of Mass intentions and stipends, we can also help those priests who are most in need in dioceses across the country