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Pope focuses on Chile's migrants before Peru leg

1 min 49Approximate reading time

Pope Francis will close his visit to Chile on Thursday with an open-air mass on the beach, before leaving for Peru on the last leg of his South American trip.

The pope's homily at the mass for tens of thousands of pilgrims expected at Lobitos Beach, near the northern city of Iquique, will focus on immigration. 

Some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) north of the capital Santiago, the city has been a huge draw for illegal immigrants from Chile's poorer neighbors, helping to drive an economic boom.

More than half a million registered foreign nationals currently live in Chile, 3 percent of the country's 17.5 million population, but there are growing concerns about increasing illegal immigration from poor countries such as Haiti and Venezuela.

Following Thursday's mass, the 81-year-old pontiff will meet with victims of the brutal 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, before flying directly to Peru's capital Lima in the evening. 

Demonstrations against Church sex abuse scandals and attacks on churches marked the opening days of his visit to Chile.


- Denounces violence -


The pope celebrated mass in a restive region of southern Chile on Wednesday, denouncing the use of violence in the struggle for indigenous rights, only hours after assailants firebombed churches and other targets.

The Argentine-born pontiff was shining the spotlight on the simmering conflict between the state and the Mapuche people, who centuries ago controlled vast areas of Chile but have since been marginalized.

"You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division," the pope said, speaking before thousands of faithful at an airfield in Temuco, the capital of the southern Araucania region.

At the pope's first public mass in Santiago on Tuesday, he faced protests over the church's handling of decades of sexual abuse by the clergy.

Scuffles broke out between riot police and demonstrators near O'Higgins Park, and police used water cannons on protesters. More than 50 people were arrested, authorities said

Later, the pope met privately with a small group of people sexually abused by priests, after he publicly asked for forgiveness.


- Praying and crying with victims -


During the "strictly private" meeting at the Vatican embassy in the capital, the victims "spoke of their suffering to Pope Francis, who listened to them and prayed and cried with them," the Vatican said.

In Temuco, however, the papal spotlight turned to the Mapuche, who account for seven percent of Chile's population but hold only five percent of their ancestral lands.

Francis met after the mass with a group of indigenous people before returning to Santiago, where he met with youth groups at the Maipu shrine outside the city and visited Chile's Catholic university. 

"Never think you have nothing to offer or that nobody cares about you. Never!" he told the youth who gave him an enthusiastic welcome at Maipu.

"All of us are necessary and important. All of us have something to offer."

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