The pope travels to Chile and Peru. Why did he choose these countries, what are his topics and when will he finally visit his home country Argentina? In an interview, Christine Seuss of Vatican News explains the background to the decision.
Interviewer: Why, then, did the pope choose Chile and Peru, of all places, as travel destinations?
Christine Seuss (Editor Vatican News): Why not, one might counter. In the meantime, we know from the pope's past 21 trips that he always visits countries on the much-vaunted "periphery," where the Catholic Church sometimes forms a tiny minority and where there are open or hidden wounds for which reconciliation is needed. The fact that it rumbles in Chile should have become clear with the fire attacks on churches and the associated threats against the pope, which were carried out shortly before the papal journey.
And even if Chile is now a democracy, the wounds of the Pinochet dictatorship are far from healed, and there are also great tensions in society, including with the indigenous people, the Mapuche, who have long been denied their rights and are now fighting for them, sometimes violently. So there is enough material to justify a trip to this country.
Interviewer: And what are the central themes in Peru, where the Pope will be from Thursday onwards??
Christine Seuss: There, too, society is deeply divided, as could be seen in recent days when the incumbent president, in a rather obvious bit of horse-trading, released ex-dictator Fujimori, who should have been serving a long prison sentence for crimes against humanity.
Peru – like Chile, by the way – has an abuse scandal in the Catholic Church behind it. And Peru has a large share of the Amazon jungle, which suffers from environmental destruction and overexploitation and where the indigenous people are under great prere. Next year, a synod of bishops will be held on this topic, which shows how much this ie is also close to the Pope's heart.
Interviewer: Is there something like an overarching theme when the pope visits these two very different countries?
Christine Seuss: It is noticeable that in both countries indigenous people and their situation play a role, so perhaps one could headline it with the overall theme: indigenous people, environmental protection and Laudato si, but also justice and reconciliation in society.
Interviewer: Which program points are the most important from your point of view??
Christine Seuss: The meetings with indigenous people are certainly the highlights of the trip, this is especially true for Peru, where a whole morning is dedicated to this topic, and in Chile Francis will celebrate a Mass with indigenous people. All important points of the program, including of course the masses and meetings with priests and religious, but also the meetings with the authorities and social representatives of the country, will be transmitted by us live and with German commentary.
Interviewer: Chile is a country where the conservative businessman Sebastian Pinera has just won the elections. Abortions were partially legalized there in the fall, and same-sex partnerships have been recognized since 2015. Will the pope make political statements – what are your expectations?
Christine Seuss: We know from experience that the Pope is not afraid to address problems directly – but he also does not see it as his task to openly interfere with the decisions of politicians. In my opinion, that would also be counterproductive. If, then, he addresses such topics rather generally, with a remark on the protection of life and the importance of the family – then one understands already, what he wants to get at. He then addresses the really burning ies – such as the Rohingya during his visit to Myanmar – rather privately and non-publicly. But he certainly has a different overall focus on this trip.
Interviewer: Around 800.000 Argentines from the Pope's homeland are expected to attend his visit to Chile. He has already been to Latin America five times. Only in his native Argentina not yet. Why actually?
Christine Seuss: Heated discussions have broken out about the reasons for this, especially in Argentina. The bishops wrote an open letter last week in which they decisively reject attempts by individual camps to seize the pope's authority. The pope is a pope of all, they write there. At the same time, they express their regret that this appropriation of the Pope also culminates in insults and defamation being sent to Francis. This, of course, makes a trip very difficult, because with the pope on the ground, such behavior, i.e. attempts to harness the pope to one's own cart, would be intensified once again.
I think Francis sees all these events with a certain distance and perhaps simply wants to spare himself these difficulties – at least for now. Who knows, perhaps he will be drawn back to his homeland at some point – there are not many white spots left in South America.
The interview was conducted by Hilde Regeniter.