Chile assures people of Pope Francis' safety despite recent church attacks

A representative from the government of Chile has guaranteed the safety of Pope Francis during his papal visit to the Latin American country this week despite a string of attacks targeting Catholic churches in the capital.

(REUTERS / Edgard Garrido)A man sells flags outside St. Joseph Cathedral ahead of the papal visit in Temuco, Chile, January 14, 2018.

On Jan. 13, Interior Minister Mario Fernandez said Pope Francis would not be exposed to security risks during his trip to Chile even after a couple of church attacks had taken place days ahead of the scheduled visit. He told a local radio station that small groups were responsible for the attacks but said these entities did not pose significant danger, Reuters detailed.

Pope Francis arrived in Chile on Jan. 15. He is scheduled to hold Mass the following day at a park in Santiago before an expected crowd of more than 500,000.

On Jan. 12, unknown assailants attacked and torched at least two churches in Chile. They hurled a homemade bomb at one church and a number of messages threatening the pope had been left behind. There were no reported injuries in the attacks and no group has claimed responsibility for these incidents yet.

"These are serious and inexcusable actions, but we have to put things in perspective," Fernandez told BioBio radio station. "We are not talking about significant groups that are truly dangerous."

The pope's visit in Chile is expected to be met by demonstrations from various groups protesting the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal, indigenous rights, and other issues.

Local observers said Pope Francis' visit to Chile may focus on helping the local church get back its trustworthiness in the wake of the string of clergy sexual abuse issues it has been embroiled in. However, this possibility could be muddied by the pontiff's 2015 appointment of Bishop Juan Barros Madrid, who had been charged of covering up for a priest in the 1980s and '90s, the National Catholic Reporter relayed.

Advocate Community Partners and Chile native Mario Paredes told the NCR that those abuse cases have caused the Catholic Church in the country to lose its credibility. He added that he is expecting Pope Francis to call for transparency in the church in light of the sex abuse scandals.