Once again francis travels to south america, once again he makes a detour around argentina. Speculation ahead of his week-long visit to chile and peru: the pope does not want to become a pawn in domestic politics in his home country, it is said.
Vatican spokesman greg burke gives no hint before the trip that starts on monday. "We must fly over argentina, so he must also send a message. So there will be an interesting telegram."The pope is in the habit of sending digging messages to the countries he overflies.
Argentina is highly polarized politically – apparently franciscus does not want to be appropriated either by president mauricio macri or by his left-wing opponent and predecessor cristina kirchner. "It is feared that a visit could be instrumentalized to aggravate this division," said the rector of the pontifical catholic university of argentina and confidant of the pope, archbishop victor manuel fernandez, last year.
While there are rumors in rome that franciscus will not travel to argentina until the end of his pontificate, the bishops’ conference there is trying to put a stop to the rumors. "If it seems appropriate for him to come, he will," said bishops’ conference spokesman jorge oesterheld. It is nevertheless "a bit painful" that the pontifex flies over the country and lands somewhere else. Francis’ predecessors fulfilled the hopes of the faithful at home more: benedict XVI. Traveled to germany three times, john paul II. Visited poland a full nine times.
Generally, francis either chooses off-the-beaten-path countries, such as myanmar and bangladesh recently – the vatican called the trip an "adventure" – or he travels to latin america. At the center of the 22. Foreign trip to meet indians, prisoners and children from home. "With the travel program, pope francis is once again putting his words into action," said the head of the project department of the latin america relief agency adveniat, thomas wieland. "He himself goes to the edges of society and places himself at the side of the poor and excluded."
Conflict issues await the pope again: in temuco, south chile, he will meet with representatives of the mapuche indigenous people, who have been fighting for years for the return of their land. Again and again, violent clashes break out. Last year, for the first time, president michelle bachelet asked forgiveness for the "errors and atrocities" committed by the chilean state.
In iquique, northern chile, the focus was on the situation of migrants. Immigrants from bolivia, peru, colombia and venezuela seek work in the economically strong country. Recently, more and more people from bitterly poor haiti tried their luck. "In the meantime, there is a real mafia that attracts more and more haitians to the country. It’s bordering on human trafficking," says margit wichelmann, adveniat’s chile officer.
For chile – where franciscus himself lived for a year and a half while studying at the jesuit seminary – it is the second papal visit. When john paul II. In 1987, the military junta of general augusto pinochet was in power. "Our country has changed in the past 30 years. While john paul II. Visited us during the dictatorship, the pope is now welcomed by a democratic and free chile," said president bachelet. Vatican spokesman burke says franciscus also meets victims of military dictatorship.
In peru, the 81-year-old will travel to the heart of the amazon for the first time and see with his own eyes the environmental destruction he denounced in his encyclical "laudato si". In the province of madre de dios, gold prospectors have turned the rainforest into a moonscape. The indians are the main victims of deforestation and mercury contamination of the rivers. "If we destroy their habitat, we destroy these peoples," said the archbishop of lima, cardinal luis cipriani thorne, during a visit to the vatican.
"It’s going to be an exhausting journey," burke said. Even if it’s true in chile: "he’s just coming home" – not everyone is looking forward to the visit. Shortly before the arrival of the head of the church, opponents of the pope demolished churches in santiago with arson attacks and threatened franciscus on flyers. After the strict abortion law was somewhat liberalized, the relationship between church and government was also strained recently.
While the catholic church is gaining more and more adherents in asia and africa, it is under pressure in the former stronghold of latin america. Above all, evangelical protestants with their charismatic preachers are alienating her faithful. Hundreds of thousands of believers are still expected to attend the pope’s masses. And if franciscus does not come to argentina, the argentineans will come to him: up to 800.000 believers want to make a pilgrimage across the andes to the neighboring country to see their compatriot. The authorities are preparing for the avalanche of sheet metal that will roll over the cordillera.