Church in Chile says ‘no to the violence’ following arson attack by indigenous militants

Chile fire Fire in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel belonging to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the village of Selva Oscura, Chile, March 13, 2023. | Credit: Bishopric of Temuco

The Catholic community of the Diocese of Temuco in Chile said no to violence following the March 13 fire that destroyed the Sacred Heart of Jesus chapel in the Amaza sector.

In a public statement signed by the diocesan administrator, Father Juan Andrés Basly Erices, the community expressed its grief over the arson attack that occurred in the early morning hours of March 13, destroying the chapel belonging to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in the village of Selva Oscura.

“On this day, when His Holiness Pope Francis marks the 10th anniversary of his pontificate, we echo the words of the message he delivered to us during his visit to these lands of La Araucanía, where he stated that ‘violence calls for violence, destruction increases division and separation. Violence ends up turning the most just cause into a liar.’ That is why we say ‘no to the violence that destroys,’” said the statement, quoting the pope.

The statement emphasized “the call for peace and unity,” acknowledging that the people and their communities “are suffering a lot” with pain and anguish due to the “violent and destructive acts.”

“With greater effort, we continue to pray for our people, our land, our blood, and we invoke St. Joseph, patron of the diocese, his protection for all, and that, in these days of Lent, conversion to good be lived out,” the text said.

The violent episode follows other fires that occurred on Feb. 20 and March 4, the first involving two forestry vehicles in the town of Traiguén and the second in the chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in the hamlet of California, about 10 miles from Selva Oscura in the Araucanía region.

On that occasion, according to the police, at least eight people participated in the attack that reduced the church to ashes.

The criminals sprayed the building with a flammable liquid, lit the fire, and escaped, according to Radio Biobío.

There were also shots fired in the vicinity of the place, where a banner was found claiming responsibility for the vandalism, signed by the group “Mapuche Malleco Resistance,” a loosely organized indigenous rights guerilla group operating in Malleco province.

In February, the minister of the interior, Carolina Tohá, reported that the government of President Gabriel Boric filed legal actions against the Mapuche organization.

The minister stressed that “setting fires when there are [forest fire] conditions like the current ones is a crime that risks endangering the population.” For this reason, she questioned: “I don’t know which indigenous claims agenda can justify that.”

“From the moment an action of this type is decided upon, people’s lives are being put at risk,” she added.

The indigenous Mapuches demand that their ownership of what they consider their territory be recognized and they oppose the overexploitation of land resources by private forestry companies.

With this justification, the armed Mapuche groups have been attacking forestry companies for some time, arguing that they are invading their lands. The militants have burned buses, churches, and schools, attacked trucks, and stolen wood.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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