CHILE – Arson attacks on Christian churches
In recent years, Araucanía, a region in the south of Chile, has been the focus of violent attacks. Hundreds of people have been victims of the so-called “Mapuche conflict” ” named after indigenous people in southern Chile. According to official figures, more than half of the Mapuche people are Catholic, and more than 35 percent are evangelical Christians. The Mapuche are peaceful people, but violent arson attacks are being committed in their name by extremist groups, who claim to be defending a territory that they allege once belonged to them.
Christians in particular have suffered for the past two years, with a total of 15 churches, most of them Catholic, burnt down. Violence has intensified -eleven churches have already been attacked this year. Church buildings have sustained severe damage which is severely hampering the communities’ social work on behalf of the local poor.
Most recently hit was the major seminary of San Fidel in the Diocese of Villarrica, a compound that was until recently occupied by Mapuche activists. The destruction has left the buildings unfit for the training of priests.
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Francisco Javier Stegmeier of Villarrica, spoke of the plight of “victims of the irrationality and injustice of criminal acts perpetrated by individuals and groups who are foreign to the way of thinking of those people who live in our region.
“All the communities which have now seen the fruit of years of hard work burnt down in a matter of minutes are made up of Christians who are for the most part themselves Mapuche and poor.”
The Archbishop continued: “the Mapuche people have suffered injustices, and there is a need to repair this damage. There have to be government policies that are realistic and efficient in leading to this end. Society as a whole needs to recognize the Mapuche people in their own specific identity, affording a dignity to their culture and accepting an intercultural dimension as the expression of a diversity that does not divide us but rather mutually enriches us.
“The solution has to come about in the context of participation and communion. In this respect, the violent groups are not contributing to a solution but instead are part of the problem. Violence will engender more violence and one can never make good an injustice through more injustice. The solution necessarily requires goodwill on the part of all parties, the sincere desire to forgive and to seek reconciliation in truth, justice and love.”