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Pope in Chile. Father Mifsud (Jesuit priest), “a word of hope enables to see the light in the tunnels of life”

A wounded, deluded Chile is expecting from the Pope “a word in defence of the most vulnerable through solidary commitments; a word of hope stemming from the faith, that does not ignore difficulties but is not resigned because it is able to see the light even in the darkest tunnels of life.” Interview with Jesuit Father Tony Mifsud, editor-in-chief of the magazine Mensaje

(Foto AFP/SIR)

A complex journey. The Pope will be facing yet another complex journey, from today until January 18th. He will be landing in Santiago at approximately 20:10(local time), where he will be welcomed by the pilgrims who arrived also from other Countries of South America, amidst Chile’s thorny issues, hanging problems, and the quest for social and political stability. Father Tony Mifsud, editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine “Mensaje”, said the atmosphere on the ground is one “of excitement.” The eve of the visit was unfortunately scarred by a set of attacks against churches with incendiary bombs, a sad recurrence on these occasions, signalling deep-rooted tensions throughout the Country, extending beyond its capital city. It’s a very different Country than the one visited by John Paul II, and Pope Francis is well aware of this. “In the 1980s, said the Jesuit Father, the image of the Church enjoyed great credibility owing to her commitment in the defence of human rights, while today she is viewed against the backdrop of the severe institutional crisis that is affecting the Country. For various reasons all public institutions are viewed with suspicion;  a climate of distrust prevails throughout.” In addition to this, some expressed criticism over the high costs of the papal visit and linked to the failure to understand “why a bishop that was very near Karadima (a priest accused of sexual abuse) was appointed bishop of Osorno.”

Father Tony, let us begin with the question of abuse. To what extent did it influence people’s perception of the Church and which mistakes were committed, in your opinion? 
Undoubtedly the question of sexual abuse has negatively impacted the Church’s public image. Some priests that were accused and punished for such crimes were well-known in the Country, thus the impact was even greater. In the face of such these scandals the Church’s position on some issues linked to sexuality has lost credibility. I am also under the impression that the position of the official Church was one of defensiveness towards those who denounced, while she should have been more open and welcoming. There was also a lack of transparency that failed to help overcome a mentality whereby

Dirty laundry should not be aired in public.

What can the Pope do during his visit to Chile? I think that concrete gestures will be more important than words – especially given the context of mistrust prevailing nationwide – such as standing with the victims.

There is also the problem of indigenous populations like the Mapuche and the Mass that will be celebrated in their territories, in Temuco. The Pope always has minorities at heart. What are your expectations? 
The Country is deeply indebted to the Mapuche people. I’m under the impression that the State failed to establish authentic dialogue with them, in fact the tendency is to resort to the anti-terrorism Act. The majority of the Mapuche people are peaceful and non-violent, but now also this majority group is starting to sympathize with a small minority that has resorted to violence. There’s a serious hermeneutics problem because reality is interpreted in different ways by the two cultures (the Chilean and theMapuche), as in the case of the significance of land, which for the Mapuche is “Mother Earth.” Futhermore, in some Mapuche environments the Church is considered on equal standing as the ruling class that colonised their lands. I think it is necessary to listen to their claims and their proposals with an open spirit, and I hope the Pope’s visit may provide such opportunity. The Pope can listen to them and accompany them in their legitimate requests, and underline that

No permanent solution can ever be found by resorting to violence

Over the past few days some media outlets wrote that the Pope (an Argentine) does not love Chile… the problem is not the Pope’s nationality but some remarks on the situation of Osorno. It would be necessary to discern… Over the past days the atmosphere regarding his visit has improved and there has been a higher request of tickets to participate in public events.

I sincerely believe that his charismatic talent, his spontaneous gestures and his simple closeness can conquer the hearts of many.

Despite these “wounds”, Pope Francis’ visit brought together a million faithful in Santiago in just a few days. There are over one thousand volunteer workers. What message does Chile expect from Pope Francis? Corruption, a political world that fails to understand citizenry, cases of sexual abuse, the allure of easy money, growing secularization, institutional crisis, prevailing individualistic mentality, lack of credibility in the Church as an institution. This is the situation that Francis will find. It’s hard to say what is expected of the Pope today, but if I may, I wish to suggest to say a few words in defence of the most vulnerable brackets through acts of solidarity; a word of hope that stems from the faith, that does not ignore difficulties but is not resigned because it sees the light at the end of the tunnel of life; a word on the deepest meaning of life; the proclamation of our merciful Lord announced by His Son Jesus; a few words on the importance of building a dream shared by all expressing veritable patriotism; a word on the fraternal welcome of migrants who have arrived in increasing numbers over the past few years.

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