Rich in opportunities, but not exactly poor in problems: In Chile and Peru, two emerging countries from his home continent of Latin America await the pope. Francis has reason enough to share some advice with them.
Interviewer: Why did the Pope choose Chile and Peru as his travel destinations??
Margit Wichelmann (Country Officer for Chile at the Catholic Latin American relief organization Adveniat): With Chile and Peru, the Pope is visiting two countries that face very great challenges, where the Church in particular faces great challenges. I can speak mainly for Chile. There, the church has long since lost the status of earlier times and faces many different problems. With his visit to both countries, the pope draws attention above all to disadvantaged population groups. In Chile, the focus is on indigenous peoples and migrants. The visit is intended to call on church and society to put people on the margins of society back at center stage.
Interviewer: Chile is a country where conservative businessman Sebastian Pinera just won elections. In the fall, abortions were partially legalized there, since 2015 same-sex partnerships are recognized. It doesn't sound like home turf for the pope – how important is the voice of the church in Chile still??
Wichelmann: You are right, the voice of the church has long since ceased to have the importance it had a few decades ago. The church has lost a lot of credibility and acceptance. It is known that at the beginning of the new millennium about 90 percent of the population still expressed great trust in the church. At the moment, that puts him at less than 40 percent. This has many causes. First, there is an overall tendency in Chile to distrust state and public institutions more and more. The church has been greatly harmed by the uncovered cases of abuse in recent years. Trust in the church has been severely shaken. This is not the only reason. The church is also no longer understood or experienced as close to the people. Moreover, it also does not seem prepared for today's times, in terms of family and so on. That is why it is a special challenge – and the Pope's visit should serve this purpose – to build closeness and understanding there and to give together a new foundation to the coexistence between Church and State. A major challenge in this context.
Interviewer: Pope Francis' trip to Chile is under the biblical motto "My peace I give to you". What does he want to say to the Chileans?
Wichelmann: The motto comes from the Gospel of John, what Jesus said at the Last Supper. It is not about a simple peace in which problems are swept under the table, but about an appeal by Francis to openly address problems in the country, to open hearts, to look beyond one's own well-being and to also take into account the concerns of those who are excluded, behind whom there is no large lobby. In this way, it should be possible to see the differences that exist in Chile between rich and poor, the different population groups as a source of enrichment and not as a disadvantage. This is a very strong message, especially in the current situation in Chile.
Interviewer: Next Wednesday, he will celebrate a service in the south of the country, in a region inhabited by the Mapuche people. This is an indigenous people who have been fighting for their tribal lands for centuries and have repeatedly come into conflict with large-scale timber and agricultural companies. At this point, does his visit also have a political message?
Wichelmann: The Pope does not see himself as a politician, but rather as a bridge builder. However, it always stands up for those who suffer hardship and have to live under injustice. The fact that he has therefore made the indigenous population of Chile and Peru the focus of his visit shows that he has a great concern for the people and sees himself on the side of the people who are afraid for their culture, their livelihoods, their land and their spirituality. He would like to strengthen the back of these people.
Interviewer: What are your expectations and those of your local church partners for the trip?
Wichelmann: I think that the expectation, both here and over there with our project partners, is that the Pope will succeed in finding words and gestures that will open doors and paths again. Ways of understanding, of commitment to one another, of moving away from entrenched opinions, of simply taking the first steps: the meeting with Mapuche representatives or with inmates of a prison in Santiago, that they are put in the center of attention. These can only be the first important signals, but the great challenge will then be to follow up the gestures and the appeal on the part of the church and society with action. There are many wonderful examples of commitment to migrants in Chile. But these are all individual activities, individual commitment. It is to be hoped that these projects will also receive support from the Pope and will find many more imitators.
The interview was conducted by Uta Vorbrodt.