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ROME – During Holy Week in some Latin American nations experiencing political turmoil, several bishops centered their messages on social cohesion, criticism of the government, and a call for citizens to think not only of themselves but of the good of their country.
The nation has been in a downward spiral for weeks, with protests calling for the removal of President Pedro Castillo, who was elected last July. The left-wing, former school teacher has been unable to address the country’s social and economic unrest, and in the words of Cardinal Pedro Barreto, vice-president of the bishops’ conference, the country is “in intensive care, we cannot be one against the other.”
Barreto, the archbishop of Huancayo, spent part of Holy Week in the presidential palace, meeting with the president to try to address the ongoing institutional crisis. Though the Catholic Church is no longer the only religious institution in Peru, it does remain an influential actor in the country.
Castillo and Barreto met twice last week, including on Holy Thursday, and according to the prelate, this is an “inflection” point for the government that, he said, will soon see a change of the whole cabinet, with no members of Peru Libre, the party that put Castillo in power.
“This is the only opportunity that President Pedro Castillo has to get out of this complex situation,” he said. “In the first meeting [held with the president], it was confirmed that he has the will to do so. I am very happy to have been a bridge, that is my job, to be a bridge for dialogue,” the cardinal said.
“I see that there are very honest people who are playing for Peru, and they have to be summoned,” Barreto said. “Seeing that we are in intensive care, there are two possibilities: Death or life. In this sense, I maintain the hope that the country will come out qualitatively in a peaceful way, if this is exhausted it would be the death of the patient and not the death of the country, but the death of this democratic proposal.”
The claim that Castillo will soon change his cabinet and push out members of his party led the secretary general of Peru Libre, Vladimir Cerron, to denounce an “ecclesiastical coup,” warning on social media that “in case the priest hasn’t found out, the interference of the clergy [in government matters] is totally unacceptable.”
Following a wobbly first month in government, Chile’s Gabriel Boric seems to have found his feet. However, as the country rewrites its constitution through a constitutional assembly, many observers believe Chile is close to a renewal of the protests that blew up in 2019-2020.
During the Easter Vigil, Cardinal Celestion Aos of Santiago said, “Chile needs citizens who think not only of themselves but of the good of the country.”
Speaking about Christ’s resurrection, he asked, “What does the resurrection have to do with us?” Aos said that humanity in the 21st century believes itself to be wise and powerful, “almost gods,” but that the pandemic made us “aware of our vulnerability, it has led us to restlessness and fear. To sickness and death,” with people only looking “at earthly life.”
“The Resurrection does not end in Jesus Christ, but has a wider deployment, it affects humanity and creation,” he told a packed cathedral.
He also encouraged Christians to “think and act like [Christ] to defend life, to maintain the fidelity of marriage, to help the one who fell and sinned to repent and correct course, to welcome the immigrant, to share with justice, to think of others and not of our own petty interests.”
“I said it at the foot of the cross and I repeat it before the Risen Jesus: Chile needs citizens who think not only of themselves or in the interests of their group or party but in the good of the country, in the values that ennoble everyone,” Aos said.
“We want and seek a Chile where we all live together respecting each other, listening to each other, dialoguing, collaborating, especially taking care of the poorest and using nature responsibly,” he said.
Alluding to the social and political context in Nicaragua, but also to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua said that Jesus is not present “in war, in hatred, in those who denigrate.”
During his Easter Sunday homily, the prelate called the faithful to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and ask for peace in the world.
“When we live some difficult situations that we do not understand, situations too heavy for us, or that can disappoint us, let us not forget that there is hope: We cannot remain locked in the empty tomb,” he said.
In allusion to the present of Nicaragua and the war in Europe, Brenes said that “in war there cannot be Jesus, in hatred there cannot be Jesus, in those who denigrate there cannot be Jesus.”
He called on his fellow countrymen to be people of hope, capable of “discovering the Christ who is risen, the Christ who is hope, the Christ who is a caress, the Christ who is an embrace, the Christ who is joy.”
Referring to messages of hatred against the bishops issued by Vice President Rosario Murillo, Brenes reiterated that “in hatred, in death, in slander, in those phrases of hatred, of resentment, of defamation, Jesus is not there, because Jesus is love and has come so that we may have life in abundance.”
“From the cross we do not find a sentence of offense for those who had scourged him, tortured him,” the cardinal said. “The great feeling that comes from a great heart: Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”
In recent weeks, Murillo called the country’s bishops and priests “traitors of the homeland.”