Pope in Chile: Unity Is a Gift That Must Be ‘Persistently Sought’ for Good of All

Francis celebrates Mass in Chile’s largely indigenous Araucania region, long divided by violent conflict.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Temuco, Chile, Jan. 17.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass in Temuco, Chile, Jan. 17. (photo: Vatican Media/CNA)

TEMUCO, Chile — On Tuesday, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Chile’s largely indigenous Araucania region, long divided by violent conflict. He stressed the importance of unity, which he said cannot be achieved through violence or forced uniformity.

Pointing to Jesus’ prayer that “they may all be one” at the end of John’s Gospel, Pope Francis noted that it is at this “crucial moment” before his death that Jesus “stops to plea for unity.”

“In his heart, he knows that one of the greatest threats for his disciples and for all mankind will be division and confrontation, the oppression of some by others,” he said, and he urged those present to take Jesus’ words in the prayer to heart.

We must “enter with him into this garden of sorrows with those sorrows of our own, and to ask the Father, with Jesus, that we, too, may be one,” Francis said, praying that “confrontation and division never gain the upper hand among us.”

Pope Francis spoke during his Jan. 17 Mass in Chile’s Araucania region in Temuco, which for years has been torn apart by violent conflict surrounding the plight of the area’s Mapuche people, an indigenous group present largely in south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina.

The largest indigenous group in Chile, the Mapuche resisted Spanish conquest during colonial times by using guerrilla warfare tactics to evade soldiers and maintain control of their land.

They continued to resist after Chilean independence in 1818; however, in the 1860s, the military gained control, and the majority of their land was given over to members of the military and incoming immigrants.  

Despite the launch of some initiatives aimed at restoring parts of their land and the creation of scholarships for Mapuche students, the Mapuche live in one of the poorest areas of Chile and claim to be mistreated by authorities.

Some of the Mapuche have in recent years adopted violent means of protest and have bombed trucks and the land of non-Mapuche people they say are illegally inhabiting the area.

They have also set fire to churches, burning more than two dozen in 2016 and 2017, according to the Chilean prosecutor’s office. Just last Friday, three more churches were fire-bombed in the Chilean capital of Santiago in protest of the Pope’s visit.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and authorities are unsure whether Mapuche activists are to blame; however, leaflets criticizing the upcoming visit of Francis and calling for a “free” Mapuche nation were dropped at the scene.

The field attached to the Maquehue Airport, where Pope Francis landed and celebrated Mass, had once been used as a detention center, where many indigenous peoples were tortured during Chile’s military government under Augusto Pinochet.

In the lead-up to the Pope’s trip, a number of the Mapuche had protested the use of the airport for the papal Mass, given the serious human-rights violations that took place there, arguing that the land belongs to them and not the government. Two more attacks on churches took place shortly before the Pope’s arrival in Temuco; however, no one has claimed responsibility for these either.

In his homily, Pope Francis recognized that, in the past, the airport had been the site of “grave violations of human rights” and said he was offering the Mass for “all those who suffered and died and for those who daily bear the burden of those many injustices.” He paused in a moment of silence for all who died.

“The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross bears all the sin and pain of our peoples, in order to redeem it,” he said, and he pointed to the day's Gospel reading from John, in which Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples.

Unity is a gift that must be “persistently sought” for the good of all, he said, but cautioned against what he named as two temptations that can “poison the roots” of this unity.

First, Francis warned against the temptation to confuse unity with uniformity, saying: “Jesus does not ask his Father that all may be equal, identical, for unity is not meant to neutralize or silence differences.”

“Unity can never be a stifling uniformity imposed by the powerful, or a segregation that does not value the goodness of others,” he said. Rather, the unity that Jesus refers to is a “reconciled diversity” that recognizes the value of the individual contribution of each tradition and culture.

This unity “will not allow personal or community wrongs to be perpetrated in its name,” the Pope said, adding that “we need the riches that each people has to offer, and we must abandon the notion that there are higher or lower cultures.”

It also requires both listening to and esteeming one another, which in turn builds solidarity. And solidarity, he said, is the most effective weapon against “the deforestation of hope.”

He also warned against the temptation to obtain unity with the use of violence and cautioned against two forms of violence which he said stifle the growth of unity and reconciliation rather than encouraging them.

The first, he said, are the “elegant agreements that will never be put into practice.” They consist of nice words and detailed plans, and while these are needed, they end up “erasing with the elbow what was written by the hand” when they go unimplemented, he said, explaining that this is a form of violence “because it frustrates hope.”

Second are the actual acts that take place, he said, insisting that “a culture of mutual esteem may not be based on acts of violence and destruction that end up taking human lives.”

“You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division,” he said. “Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”

Rather than using these two avenues, which are “the lava of a volcano that wipes out and burns everything in its path,” the Pope urged attendees to pursue a path of “active nonviolence” as a political style and told them to never tire of promoting true and peaceful dialogue for the sake of unity.

After Mass, Pope Francis was to head to the motherhouse for the Sisters of the Holy Cross order, where he will eat lunch with around 11 people, eight of whom will be Mapuche.

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