SANTIAGO, Chile — Several churches across Chile have been attacked and looted amid anti-government protests in the country.
The demonstrations began in mid-October in Santiago over a now-suspended increase in subway fares. Other regions joined in the protests, expanding their grievances to inequality and the cost of health care.
Protesters broke into Santiago’s La Asuncion parish Nov. 8, hauling out pews, confessionals and statues, which they defaced, to build a barricade. They set the barricade on fire before clashing with police and sprayed anti-Catholic graffiti on the walls, pillars and altar of the church.
The next day, the Chilean bishops said that “with many Chileans we are radically opposed to injustice and to violence, we condemn them in all their forms, and we hope that the tribunals will identify those responsible and sanction them.”
“The violent protesters only prevent us from looking with due attention to the just claims of the majority of the Chilean people who yearn for real and peaceful solutions … the people are not only tired of injustice, also of violence, and the great majority hope for dialogue with respect to the reconstruction of the social fabric.”
On Nov. 10, attackers in Talca forced open the doors of the Mary, Help of Christians shrine, where they destroyed religious images and then carried them into the streets along with the church’s pews to set them on fire and erect barricades. Before the Carabineros de Chile arrived at the scene, the attackers desecrated the tabernacle.
At a Nov. 12 news conference, Father Pedro Pablo Cuello, director of the Salesian presence in Talca, said that “Chile needs to grow, needs to be reconciled, with peace, with justice and equity. … This is a desecration of the very face of Jesus.”
Bishop Galo Fernández Villaseca, auxiliary bishop of Santiago and apostolic administrator of Talca, said he was “impacted and moved by the violence one is experiencing, which is intensifying in the country and among us. These are not just material damages; it’s an attitude of discord and which attacks the deepest sentiments of a person, our religious sentiments. The desecration of the Blessed Sacrament hurts us deeply.”
“It hurts me that the soul of Chile is wounded, is incapable of dialogue, that the soul of Chile, claiming legitimate things that we share to a great extent, is walking down a path that is counterproductive,” Bishop Fernández said.
He encouraged the practice of “peace, dialogue, to value what is true in the different person and to walk down a path that means progress for all women and men in Chile.”
The Salesian community in turn asked that Chileans “seek peace and the ways of understanding and dialogue … convinced that the great challenge of every society is to achieve a good integration in which all people have a decent life, especially the elderly and children.”
“It’s a matter of respecting one another, of working together. We all want to build a new Chile, a Chile truly just and solidary, and we will continue working according to our responsibilities as priests and as a Salesian school,” they said.
Bishop Fernández said a Mass of reparation in the church Nov. 12.
Also on Nov. 10, a mob attacked Our Lady of the Angels parish in Viña del Mar, immediately northeast of Valparaiso.
The attackers pulled out statues of Sts. Expeditus and Teresa of the Andes from their glass enclosures and destroyed them. They also destroyed some stained-glass windows and other windows, sprayed graffiti and tried to enter the church.
“This violent action hurts us deeply since the Shrine of St. Expeditus has always been a refuge for those who suffer and need a place of peace and hope. Not only has a sacred image been broken, but also the home has been violated that welcomes thousands of pilgrims who with faith give over their yearnings and hopes,” the parish said.
Along with expressing their support for the legitimate demands of society, the parish condemned the vandalism and violence and said it is “time for a true constructive dialogue and to seek paths of unity for all of us who live in this land.”
In recent days, the Cathedral of St. James in Valparaiso and St. Teresa of the Andes parish in Punta Arenas have also been attacked.
More than 20 people have been killed in the protests. Many of the protests are peaceful, but some have included looting and arson, along with attacks on public and private property, national heritage buildings and churches. More than 7,000 demonstrators have been arrested.
President Sebastian Pinera replaced several cabinet ministers last month, but it did not sate the protesters.