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ROME – As Peruvian authorities implement a sweeping state of emergency decreed by President Dina Boluarte in response to weeks of deadly protests, the country’s bishops have called for an end to violence and offered prayers for the victims and the country.
Last weekend Archbishop Carlos Castillo of Lima offered Sunday Mass for the 53 people who have so far been killed in protests, whose photos decorated the main altar of the Cathedral of Lima, and for their families.
Castillo told Peruvians to “not let yourselves be robbed of hope” amid the turmoil, and said the bloodshed of so many citizens “does not cry out for revenge, but mercy and peace, rectification of behaviors and conversion, so that this dark and scary spiral of absurd and unheard of violence ends.”
Castillo voiced dismay at the pain and injustice of current social conflicts, saying the Church’s role in the chaos is to offer “a fundamental, spiritual reflection,” whereas the investigations into the deaths of the 49 people killed and the search for political and economic solutions “correspond to other spheres.”
“We do not go to the right or to the left, or to the center, we go to the bottom. That is our mission! Everything can be perfected if you go to the bottom of things,” he said, and condemned those who pursue power and their own interests.
Each of the people who died are a reflection of God, he said, saying, “Jesus is in the face of each victim, and each victim also represents the face of the God of the humiliated, the annihilated, who in their faces pronounce his word: peace!”
Over the weekend the Peruvian government declared a state of emergency in the regions of Lima, Cusco, and Puno, as well as the province of Callao, following weeks of protests against Boluarte that have so far left 53 dead and 600 injured. The decree authorizes the army to collaborate with local police in maintaining order and limiting some rights, such as freedom of movement and assembly.
Protests broke out in early December after former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo was ousted for attempting to dissolve congress and rule by decree in a bid to prevent an impeachment vote against him.
Castillo, who was being investigated in several fraud cases during his time in office, has been remanded in custody for 18 months and charged with rebellion.
Since his ouster, Castillo’s supporters have marched and barricaded streets throughout the country demanding new elections and Boluarte’s removal, as well as a new congressional assembly.
The unrest is the latest chapter in what have been a tumultuous few years for Peru, which has faced continual political instability in recent years, with Boluarte being the sixth person to hold the presidency in the past five years.
Baluarte attempted to quell protests earlier this year by sending a bill to congress to push general elections to 2024, however, it did not dissuade protesters, who are still demanding her resignation and Castillo’s release, the shutdown of congress, and early elections.
Yet despite the ongoing unrest, Beluarte, who belongs to the same leftwing Perú Libre party as Castillo, is refusing to step down.
In a late-night address Friday, Boluarte said she would not step down, and lamented that the protests had turned violent. She apologized for the situation, but held her ground, saying she was committed to Peru and rejected the protesters demand of calling a constitutional assembly.
Also on Friday, Peru’s minister of the interior and minister of women resigned.
More than 100 roadblocks, set up by protesters to disrupt traffic, were in place throughout Peru Saturday, mainly in the south, which has been the epicenter of protests, as well as around Lima.
Authorities have also now reopened Cusco international airport, which was closed for a time and which is vital to the country’s tourism sector.
The deadliest day of protests so far was Jan. 9, when 18 people were killed in Puno, which is now under a strict curfew from 8:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m.
On Jan. 15, Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said the government is focused on “building bridges of dialogue” with Puno and Cusco, where most of the violence is concentrated.
Some clergy have also been affected by ongoing unrest.
Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro of Ayacucho recently sanctioned an Argentine priest, Luis Humberto Béjar, who has been living in Puno and has voiced support for the violent protests unfolding in Peru. Béjar, who had asked for Boluarte’s removal on TikTok, has since left the country.
Peru’s bishops are currently participating in a Jan. 16-10 plenary assembly for the election of new officials, and to discuss the country’s ongoing crisis and the need for peace.
In a Jan. 10 statement following the deaths in Puno, the permanent council of the Peruvian Bishops Conference lamented the deaths, saying that as pastors, their “heartfelt condolences” go to the families of those killed, including a 29-year-old officer who was burned alive when protesters lit his vehicle on fire.
“We cannot return to the dark times of terror that mourned our country for 20 years,” they said.
Rather, the bishops insisted that “This situation requires the energetic and forceful rejection of all,” and requires the urgent affirmation of, “no to violence, wherever it comes from! No more deaths! Yes to life! Life is sacred!”
“We ask the Lord and his Holy Mother to enlighten us for the building of a true peace in our beloved country,” they said.
Paraguayan bishops sent a letter of solidarity to the Peruvian people Jan. 11 in which they lamented the loss of life related to the protests.
“We regret that the path to truth, through law and justice, must be followed by paths of violence and arbitrariness, to the detriment of human life,” they said, and urged Latin Americans “to be guided with faith and hope to achieve more dignified and just conditions in their social and political development.”
“We make a call for dialogue and for peace in Peru, and we unite our prayers to God Most High in favor of the affected families,” they said.
Similarly, Cardinal Pedro Barreto of Huancayo, a Jesuit and ally to Pope Francis, told the Peruvian newspaper El Informativo that as church leaders, “We are dismayed, we are with a Peru that hurts our souls, because we have never before reached this painful situation of deaths of brothers and sisters that have to be investigated for the spiritual and social health not only of the families, but also of all Peruvians.”
He called for joint actions for the benefit of the needy and forgotten in the country, especially in Puno, where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.
“We have to be aware that we must reverse this situation, it is a time to recover serenity, because the anger contained in the face of the claims that are fair cannot lead to confrontation, insults and conflict,” Barreto said, saying the current situation “summons us all, starting with the poorest and most forgotten of our homeland.”
Justice must be achieved, but without aggression, he said, saying, “We must generate spaces to create calm, asking ourselves where we are going.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen