SANTIAGO – During the first day of his South American tour, Pope Francis drove through Santiago de Chile in his popemobile to O’Higgins Park.
After visiting President Michelle Bachelet at Palacio de la Moneda, the supreme pontiff went to the popular park to hold the first Mass on Chilean soil.
The pope was hit in the face by an object which appeared to be a cream hat or a towel, as he greeted the thousands of people who had turned out to see him.
The 81-year old was hit on the left side of his face, the footage from Santiago’s O’Higgins Park shows.
The pontiff appeared to be unharmed, however, and maintained a smile as he waved to worshipers as though nothing had happened.
The Pope’s visit to the country was marred by violent protests and attacks on churches as many local Catholics are still angry at Francis for appointing a bishop, who was involved in a sex abuse cover-up scandal, as the head of a diocese. There was also backlash from pro-abortion activists and those angered by the high cost of staging the pontiff’s visit.
Around 30 people were also detained the southern city of Concepcion, after they took to the streets claiming the authorities “wouldn’t show the real image of Chile” to the Pope.
A spokesman for the protesters, Claudio Melgarejo, claimed at least 200 people had to be dispersed during the first day of the pontiff’s visit.
He said: “We are not against the visit of the Pope.
“We are against the image that the executive wants to give him that everything is fine here, which is not the case.”
Meanwhile, the number of Catholic churches that have been attacked in Chile in the past week rose to nine, both in the capital and in southern regions.
In three of the attacks churches suffered damage, particularly at the gates and facades.
After a fire at the church of San Agustín de Melipilla investigators found graffiti daubed on the walls which read: “The only church that illuminates is the one that burns, it is the one that is on fire. Ha-Ha, NO to the Pope.”
Catholics have been upset with the Pope’s appointment in 2015 of Bishop Juan Barros to head the small diocese of Osorno in south-central Chile.
Bishop Barros, who attended Tuesday’s Mass, has been accused of a cover-up of sexual abuse – an allegation he denies.
But the scandal has gripped Chile, and, along with growing secularisation, it has hurt the standing of a Church that defended human rights during the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
During his speech, the pope said was “fair to ask for forgiveness” and that he felt “pain and shame” before the “irreparable damage” caused to the victims of sexual abuse by the Chilean clergy.
He added: “And here I cannot stop expressing the pain and shame I feel at the irreparable damage caused to children by ministers of the Church.”
Francis is wrapping up his visit to Chile in Iquique, where he will celebrate Mass and meet with members of the city’s growing immigrant community. Later Thursday he travels to Peru.