Pope Arrives in Chile to Bolster Battered Church Credibility

Meanwhile, the pope also called for people to "listen" to migrants, whom he said "knock on the doors of this country in search of improvement, and in turn, with the strength and hope of wanting to build a better future for everyone".

Chile has the lowest support for the Roman Catholic Church in South America. It is estimated that more than 60% of the population identifies itself as Christian, and 45% belongs to the Catholic Church.

As is his custom, he is expected to focus on the people living on the margins of society, the poor and the sick, including meeting female convicts and their children at a Santiago prison.

Some 38% of Chileans regard themselves as agnostic, atheist or non-religious.

The last time any serious opposition greeted a pope came during uneventful protests over the costs for Pope Benedict XVI's 2010 trip to Britain.

Pope Francis is starting a six city apostolic visit which begins in Chile and ends in Peru.

Three churches caught fire after they were targeted with homemade devices. This could be the reason why there was a string of firebombings of churches and death threats to the Pope before his visit.

On Thursday, the pope will travel to Iquique in northern Chile, where he will preside over another open-air mass, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, before traveling on to Peru's capital Lima.

To be sure, many eagerly awaited a chance to see the pope and celebrate their faith.

Advocate Community Partners and Chile native Mario Paredes told the NCR that those abuse cases have caused the Catholic Church in the country to lose its credibility. Barros was one of several priests trained by Karadima.

Local church leaders had ignored the complaints against Karadima for years, but they were forced to open an official investigation after the victims went public and Chilean prosecutors started investigating.

And protests are expected there over a bishop whom Pope Francis appointed in 2015.

According to Karadima's victims, Bishop Barros was aware of the abuse but allowed it to happen, although he denies knowing of the crimes.

Christians, the pope said, are also called to be peacemakers and work for reconciliation by "going out of our way to meet someone having a hard time, someone who has not been treated as a person, as a worthy son or daughter of this land".

People hold banners reading "Neither lefties nor fools, Osorno suffers, Bishop Barros, accessory after the fact", during a protest, as Pope Francis visits the La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, Chile January 16, 2018.

Bachelet a year ago asked for forgiveness from the Mapuche community for such "errors and horrors". It's a conflict that erupts in violence periodically.

The Pope told participants, including a dozen Nobel peace laureates that "International relations can not be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms".

In recent years, the Mapuche have burned churches to agitate for the return of ancestral lands and recognition of their language.

  • Leroy Wright