Chile: Jesuit support for Mapuche people
The "Misión Mapuche Tirúa" of the Society of Jesus works among the indigenous Mapuche people in Chile, offering pastoral, social and cultural services. Fr Pablo Castro SJ, the director of the mission station, told Headlines about the mission and the continuing struggle of the Mapuches:
"We Jesuits who were sent to the Mapuche mission spent nearly eight years sharing our lives with the people in this part of indigenous territory known as 'lavkenmapu' (land of the sea). We have been fortunate to be here in this place and accompany our brothers and sisters during this difficult moment. Above all, we are witnesses." Fr Castro reports two incidents that occurred at the beginning of the year: a Mapuche student, Matías Catrileo, was shot dead by the border police on 3 January, and a young Mapuche woman, Patricia Troncoso, ended a 112-day hunger strike after the the president of the Chilean Episcopal Conference intervened; no government agency showed any reaction to her plight. Fr Castro comments: "Together with four other members of the Mapuche community, she was convicted under anti-terrorist legislation, a true act of judicial abuse against the Mapuche people which was condemned by human rights organisations."
Explaining the background to the present conflict, he says: "The history of the current 'conflict' can be traced back to the State confiscation of indigenous land towards the end of the 19th century. The bishops of Chile have clearly stated that this conflict will not find a solution unless the root causes of the conflict are dealt with: the occupation of the ancestral land and the official policies of transferring land and of cultural assimilation." He adds another perspective to the picture: "In the middle of this reality, we see how life in the communities continues at its own pace. It is good to understand this since some present the reality on the ground as if it was a war zone. There are surely some Mapuche communities 'under siege' by the political powers, but it is also true that the people are in full harvest season, cutting grass for the cattle, bringing in firewood for the next winter, gathering peas, harvesting new potatoes and threshing the wheat that will be bread for their children over the next year." Fr Castro concludes: "It is important to visualise the complete reality in order not to give in to the suggestions of the media, who have transformed news from the Mapuche people into political news, criminalising their lives, their actions and their rightful demands."