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ROME – Following another weekend of violence in the Peruvian capital of Lima, the country’s Catholic bishops have offered to mediate the spiraling political and social conflict.
In a Jan. 20 tweet, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, president of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference, said that the bishops “see with much pain the harsh political and social confrontation in our country, which has left more than 50 dead.”
“This requires us to resolutely change the course: We want peace!” he said.
In a statement the same day, the bishops offered themselves to help mediate and “build bridges of encounter” amid the turmoil, saying it is the church’s duty to be a sign of solidarity “with all of humanity and with its history.”
“Enough promoting polarizations! Let’s stop hurting each other! No more fighting! This situation requires dialogue, listening, and decision,” they said, saying it is time for authorities and political actors to “commit themselves responsibly” to finding a common and agreed-upon path out of the current crisis.
Protests erupted in Peru in early December after the ouster of former president Pedro Castillo, quickly morphing into nationwide chaos with demonstrators demanding the resignation of current President Dina Boluarte, the closure of Congress and fresh elections.
Boluarte had previously served as Castillo’s vice president and replaced him after he attempted to close congress and rule by decree Dec. 7. She recently called a state of emergency for Lima and three other regions due to ongoing protests.
So far, over 50 people have died in confrontations between protestors and police, including one police officer and eight people who died as a result of strikes and blockades. Another person was killed, and 30 people injured in fresh clashes over the weekend.
The mounting death toll has added fuel to an already volatile blaze, with protesters now calling Boluarte a murderer and demanding investigations into the deaths.
For the past week the Peruvian bishops have been gathered for their annual plenary assembly, during which they elected new officials and discussed the ongoing crisis. They closed their assembly Friday with a special Mass for peace.
In a Jan. 20 communique published at the close of the gathering, the bishops lamented the current state of their country, saying “we regret the violence unleashed because violence only breeds more violence.”
“The death of more than 50 of our Peruvian brothers is a deep wound in the heart of our people, as well as the suffering of all the wounded, civilians and police,” they said, and called for immediate action to change course.
“Certainly, these atrocities that have left our country in mourning cannot go unpunished,” they said, and called for swift investigations to be carried out to identify those responsible and hold them to account.
In Lima, a large march was held Thursday that was billed as the “takeover of Lima,” and which thousands flocked to from throughout the country. Protesters again called for Boluarte’s resignation and the inevitable clashes with police included stone-throwing and tear gas.
In a late-night television address, Boluarte said police had the protests under control and warned that those responsible for the violence would not go unpunished, saying the march was anything but peaceful.
Elsewhere in Peru, in the southern city of Arequipa, one person died and roughly 10 were injured in clashes with the police when protesters reportedly tried to invade the city airport. Several airports have been closed since protests began, and the county itself has been paralyzed, with over 100 roadblocks interrupting traffic and routine life.
Boluarte, who maintains her refusal to resign, met with a representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Thursday, after the UN agency said last week that it was “very concerned” about the rising violence in Peru.
On Friday Peru’s historic Plaza San Martín caught fire amid continued protests. Though the building was empty at the time, the fire caused extensive damage to one of Lima’s most historic buildings.
Pope Francis himself called for calm in Peru during his Sunday Angelus address, urging faithful to pray for an end to the violence, saying “violence extinguishes the hope of a just solution to the problems.”
“I encourage all parties involved to embark on the path of dialogue between brothers of the same nation, in the full respect of human rights and of the rule of law,” he said, and echoed a previous plea by the Peruvian bishops for citizens to say “no to violence, wherever it comes from! No more deaths!”
In an open letter to Boluarte and the President of Peru’s Congress, William Zapata, Bishop Ciro Quispe of Juli, near the city of Puno, where another person died in protests over the weekend, raising the death count to 54, said he was “morally bound” to share his concerns.
He noted that several people were “tragically wounded and the number of unnecessary deaths is rising,” saying he is sad to see people fighting one another, demanding that their requests be heard “while anxiety, fear, and uncertainty take over us.”
“How many more deaths?” he asked, and begged state officials to “show a visible and concrete sign to stop this terrible wave of wounded and deaths, so as to avoid every type of repression and violence.”
“I urge you so that, in as short a time as possible, you show concrete signs of detachment from power and convene the authorities…to establish a real table of dialogue with specific points,” Quispe said, asking authorities to listen to the people so that there would be “no more deaths among Peruvian men and women!”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen