SANTIAGO – Vandals in Santiago attacked three churches with at least four bomb attacks before dawn on Friday in protests against Pope Francis’s visit to the South American country January 15-18, local media reported.
In three of the attacks the churches suffered damage, to their doors and facades in particular, while the fourth attack was thwarted by police, the media said.
At Penalolen, at the Cristo Vencedor Chapel, a bomb did not cause major damage.
At Recoleta, another attack struck the Emanuel Chapel, where a bomb broke a door and some windows.
Finally, at the Cristo Pobre shrine, police said they had “neutralised” a rubbish bin apparently full of fuel.
The attackers, whose identity is still unknown, also left notes threatening the pontiff.
One of the pamphlets read: “Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe,” authorities said.
“One has the right to protest, but it’s a different thing entirely to use violence,” Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy told reporters early on Friday after inspecting the damage inflicted on the churches.
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.
Protests on issues ranging from indigenous rights to the Church’s ongoing sexual abuse scandal are expected.
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.
President-elect Sebastian Piñera took to Twitter to condemn “the acts of violence”
Condeno los actos de violencia contra Iglesias de Peñalolén, Estación Central y Recoleta esta madrugada. El odio y la intolerancia no pueden primar por sobre el respeto y el Estado de Derecho. Recibamos al Papa Francisco con alegría y en paz.
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) January 12, 2018
“The hatred and intolerance cannot prevail above the respect and the rule of law. We receive the Francis Pope with joy and peace,” Chile’s next head of state said (in Spanish).