Vandals that have attacked three churches in Chile, leaving notes threatening Pope Francis ahead of the pontiff’s visit to the country next week.
The vandals, whose identity is still unknown, attacked the churches in the nation’s capital city Santiago and tossed pamphlets on the street as they fled.
Pamphlets left at one of the churches backed the cause of the indigenous Mapuche people, some of whom have been staging violent protests, and added: ‘Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe.’
Workmen begin repairs on the Santa Isabel de Hungria Church in Santiago, Chile, which came under attack over night
Deputy Interior Secretary Aleuy Mahmud, centre, leaving the church, past a door damaged in the firebomb attack
A workman at the blackened doorway of the Santa Isabel de Hungria Catholic Church
The Pope was warned that ‘the next bomb will be in your robe’ in pamphlets left at the one churches
The churches were hit with firebombs then sprayed with accelerant and at one, the doors were burned before firefighters extinguished the blaze.
Later in the day, police found barrels of flammable liquid at two other churches that had not been ignited. They were handled by the bomb squad without incident.
Chile’s President President Michelle Bachelet described the incidents as ‘very strange’.
‘In a democracy, people can express themselves as long as they do it in a peaceful way,’ she said.
Hugo Alcaman, president of ENAMA, a Mapuche group that encourages local businesses and advocates social change, condemned the attacks.
‘We reject all types of violence, which we don’t think is intelligent or effective,’ said Alcaman.
No one has been arrested for the attacks, which caused no injuries, and the Vatican is yet to comment.
Francis, who hails from Argentina and is the first Latin American pope, arrives in Chile on Monday.
A Mass he has planned to hold on Tuesday in a Santiago park is expected to attract more than 500,000 people.
Pope Francis greets faithful during his weekly general audience in Nervi Hall at the Vatican
But protests on issues ranging from indigenous rights to the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse scandal are expected.
Francis will celebrate Mass for the Mapuche in Araucania, southern Chile, on Wednesday and then break bread with a dozen or so indigenous people at a private lunch.
His visit comes as some radical Mapuche groups have been staging violent protests, occupying and burning farms, churches and lumber trucks to demand the return of their land.
Chile’s largest indigenous group resisted conquest for 300 years, until military defeats in the late 19th century forced them into Araucania.
Many Mapuche there now live in poverty on the borders of timber company land or ranches owned by the descendants of the Europeans who colonised the area after the indigenous resistance was quelled.
Francis will also visit the south-central city of Temuco and Iquique, which is farther north, before heading to Peru, where he will stop in Lima, Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.