Latin America & Caribbean

Pope Francis urges end to Chile's Mapuche conflict

Pope Francis waves to the crowd while driving through Temuco, Chile, 17 January 2018 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pope Francis said that violence turns a "just cause into a lie"

Pope Francis has used a public address in Chile to denounce violence and call for unity in one of the country's longest-running conflicts.

Speaking in southern Araucania region, the pontiff said "destructive violence" between the indigenous Mapuche people and the state was not the answer.

"Violence begets violence," he said.

The region has experienced conflict for centuries. Issues include ancestral land ownership and legal recognition for the Mapuche language and culture.

Pope Francis was speaking at a mass in Temuco city, which is both the capital of Araucania and the de-facto capital for the Mapuche community.

"You cannot assert yourself by destroying others," he said, adding that doing so leads to "more violence and division".

"Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie," the pontiff said.

"Unity is not born, nor will be born, from neutralising or silencing differences," he added.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The pontiff delivered an open-air mass in Temuco

While thousands gathered to hear Pope Francis speak at the airfield in Temuco, which is 800km (500 miles) south of Santiago, his visit has not been welcomed by everyone.

Ahead of his arrival in the region, Chilean police said that two Catholic churches were set on fire, along with three helicopters belonging to forestry companies.

Earlier this week, several churches in Chile were damaged when they were attacked with fire bombs or vandalised.

Flyers were also left at the properties, warning that the next target would be the Pope.

No group has said it was responsible for the attacks, but Mapuche activists have previously targeted churches to highlight their discontent with the way the government and church have treated them in their long-running campaign to secure the return of their ancestral lands.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Helicopters are vandalised ahead of Pope Francis's speech

On Tuesday, Pope Francis met a group of victims of sexual abuse by priests in Chile.

Earlier during his visit to the country, the Pope said he felt "pain and shame" over the sex abuse scandal, asking the victims for forgiveness.

The pontiff has been criticised in Chile for a decision to ordain a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by a priest.

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