By Loreto Prado
In recent years, Araucanía, a region in the south of Chile, has been the focus of violent attacks against the people. Hundreds of people have been victims of the so-called “Mapuche conflict,” named after an indigenous people in the country’s south and driven by extremist groups claiming to defend territory that allegedly once belonged to them.
For two years now, the violence has also affected Christians, with a total of 15 churches, most of them Catholic. Eleven of the churches were targeted this year, severely hampering the communities’ social work on behalf of the local poor.
Most recently hit was the major seminary of San Fidel in the Diocese of Villarrica, a compound that was until recently occupied by Mapuche activists. The destruction has left the buildings unfit for the training of priests. According to official figures, more than half of the Mapuche people are Catholic, with more than 35 percent of them identifying as evangelical Christians. The Mapuche are peaceful people, but violence is committed in their name.
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Francisco Javier Stegmeier of Villarrica, spoke of the plight of “victims of the irrationality and injustice of criminal acts perpetrated by individuals and groups who are foreign to the way of thinking of those people who live in our region.
“All the communities which have now seen the fruit of years of hard work burnt down in a matter of minutes are made up of Christians who are for the most part themselves Mapuche and poor.”
The prelate continued: “the Mapuche people have suffered injustices, and there is a need to repair this damage. There have to be government policies that are realistic and efficient in leading to this end. Society as a whole needs to recognize the Mapuche people in their own specific identity, affording a dignity to their culture and accepting an intercultural dimension as the expression of a diversity that does not divide us but rather mutually enriches us.
“The solution has to come about in the context of participation and communion. In this respect, the violent groups are not contributing to a solution but instead are part of the problem. Violence will engender more violence and one can never make good an injustice through more injustice. The solution necessarily requires goodwill on the part of all parties, the sincere desire to forgive and to seek reconciliation in truth, justice and love.”