After parish in Santiago, Chile destroyed by arson, pastor urges hope

P La Asuncion Giselle Vargas  ACIPrensa 19102020 Church of the Assumption in Santiago, Chile, after an arson attack Oct. 18. Giselle Vargas/ACI Prensa

The pastor of a parish destroyed by arson in Santiago, Chile on Sunday has urged local Catholics to reject temptations toward revenge, and to place their hope in unity with Jesus Christ.

Fr. Pedro Narbona, pastor of the Church of the Assumption in Santiago, Chile, which was destroyed by arsonists Oct. 18 called on people to open their hearts "without hatred and without revenge" and to "deeply reflect on the Chile that we want to build."

"Death and pain don't have the last word, rather hope and life always have the last word. The one who triumphs is always Our Lord and we are upheld by him and united with him," Narbona told ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish language news partner.

The priest said he was especially concerned because "with so much destruction, so much hatred and revenge" those most affected are the poor. "And in this case, a specific community that has seen the historic place where they meet and worship vandalized twice, three times."

"This is a living place," Narbona said of his parish, where people "trust that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd leads them through dark valleys and we fear nothing. The certainty and the strength that it gives us now is that, without hatred, without revenge, we may open our hearts to deeply reflect on the Chile that we want to build."

Narbona was alluding to an Oct. 25 referendum in Chile on a new constitution that would replace the current one written in 1980 under the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.

Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli tutti "invites us to dream of the world we want, the country we want; we want an open country, a welcoming country, a country where we can all sit at the table, but truly everyone, with no one excluded," Narbona said.

"Chile, as our bishops say, has a vocation to understanding, not confrontation, Chile is called to be a country of brothers where everyone has his daily bread, respect and joy. That is what's fundamental, what's most important. Opening our hearts to hope, to Jesus Christ."

The priest asked believers to "find light and peace--may the Lord disarm our hands, cool off our heads and open our hearts to dialogue," which would be the best thing that could happen, Narbona concluded.

Chilean police are investigating the church fire. After that, Narbona and diocesan officials say they will evaluate how to rebuild the parish community spiritually, morally and physically.

The Church of the Assumption had previously been attacked by looters in November 2019. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has been difficult for the community to begin rebuilding.

A few weeks ago, Masses and pastoral life resumed, putting in place the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On Sunday, at the same time that Narbona's parish was lit ablaze, rioters also attacked nearby St. Francis Borgia Church, which serves the national police force. The two churches are located in Santiago's downtown area near Plaza de Italia, where demonstrations began that day.

Both churches were looted, tagged with slogans, and completely burned,  with bell towers and roofs coming down in the conflagration.

The Chilean Investigative Police and other federal police forces are still investigating the blazes. Some arrests have already been made.

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The attacks came as demonstrators across the country marked the one-year anniversary of large anti-government protests that took place across Chile last year, during which riots destroyed supermarkets and other businesses, and reportedly caused more than 30 deaths.

The demonstrations began last October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of healthcare.

Since last October 57 churches and religious buildings have been attacked in Chile.

Adding to that total, a large outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary in Pirque, a town located on the outskirts of Santiago, was doused with red paint and tagged with anti-Catholic abortion slogans on Oct. 18. The green neckerchief adopted by abortion advocates in Latin America was tied around Our Lady's face.

On Monday night, unidentified vandals smashed windows, tagged, and tried to burn down Saint Francis of Assisi Church in Serena, Chile, about 245 miles north of Santiago. A quick response by the local unit of the national police put the vandals to flight and prevented further damage.

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

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