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News > Latin America

Pope Francis Holds Mass Promoting Struggle of Mapuche Peoples

  • Mapuche people meet Pope Francis during a mass at the Maquehue Temuco Air Force base in Temuco, Chile, January 17.

    Mapuche people meet Pope Francis during a mass at the Maquehue Temuco Air Force base in Temuco, Chile, January 17. | Photo: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Published 17 January 2018

Representatives from Mapuche communities took part in the mass, but activist Machi Linconao was denied the opportunity to meet the pontiff.

Pope Francis has conducted mass in the Mapuche territory of Temuco in Araucania, Chile, greeting Mapuche and other indigenous peoples, and praying for them in both Spanish and Mapudungun, the Mapuche language.


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A small group of faithful had braved the cold to reserve their places at the "Mass for the People's Progress," which was celebrated at the Maquehue airport, since the early hours of Wednesday morning. By the time doors closed at 9 am, the site was full of people waiting for the pontiff to arrive.

Pope Francis quoted lyrics from famous Chilean singer Violeta Parra to discuss the injustice suffered by the native peoples of Chile: "Arauca has a pain that cannot be silenced, it's a centuries-old injustice that everyone witnessed. Nobody has solved it, even though it's possible. Rise up, Huenchullan."

The pope asked the crowd to avoid the notion that there are superior or inferior societies, and to avoid the divisions overtaking the struggle, which could legitimize social injustice.

He also stated that native peoples are not only asking to be listened to, but to be recognized: "You cannot ask for recognition by ignoring the other, because this only provokes the destruction of the other."

Temuco is the Araucania capital and the heartland of the conflict between Mapuche communities and the Chilean government. Maquehue airport used to serve commercial flights, but now only receives military aircraft. Some Mapuche organizations claim the airport was built on lands stolen from native people.

Bishop Juan Barros, accused by witnesses of covering up sexual abuse by Fernando Karadima, was present during the mass, despite protests organized by the Secular Asociation of Osorno and other activists from Temuco.

"I've said a lot of times that I didn't witness them [the abuses] and I ask you to leave me alone," Barros is reported to have told local media. "I talked with some journalists yesterday and now is the time to have a beautiful mass."

Two helicopters from forestry company Arauco were burned in La Colcha, Curanilahue, and a third one was damaged in an attack claimed by the Communities in Conflict Coordinator Arauco-Malleco (CAM), according to Humberto Toro, Arauco's governor.

CAM has consistently demanded the government return stolen Mapuche territory.

Mapuche activist Machi Francisca Linconao, who attended the mass, had been hoping to meet Pope Francis in order to deliver a letter asking the pontiff to encourage the Chilean government to stop harassing her. The request, however, was denied.

Linconao has been accused of organizing the assassinations of Werner Luchsinger and Vivianne Mackay, a charge she denies. She has been in and out of prison since 2013 and twice declared innocent, but now faces a third trial and cannot legally leave the country.

In her letter, Linconao narrates her situation and the abuse she has survived, and calls on Pope Francis to intervene on her behalf in the forthcoming third trial. "In Chile, the anti-terrorism law only applies to the Mapuche, while our presumtion of innocence is ignored," she writes.

Linconao's spokesman said the Catholic Church owns land which was stolen from the Mapuche in La Araucania, Biobio and Los Rios. The spokesman criticized the pope's message, saying it wasn't "strong enough given the serious problems the Mapuche people are going through."

After the mass, Pope Francis had lunch with eight representatives of Mapuche communities and guests from different backgrounds before flying to Santiago for his next meeting.

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