Monday, February 9, 2015

Blouin Beat: World - Pope to visit Latin America in 2015 amid joy, tensions

"Pope to visit Latin America in 2015 amid joy, tensions"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Blouin Beat: World
February 9, 2015
Originally publihsed: 

As the first ever pontiff from Latin America, Pope Francis of Argentina is expected to make frequent visits to the region in the coming years. Given recent developments, this hypothesis will become a reality.

Pope Francis recently finished a tour of Sri Lanka and the Philippines, where he was enthusiastically received in Colombo and Manila by millions of followers. Now, the Vatican has confirmed that he will visit three Latin American countries this year: Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, though it is unclear when this trip will take place. According to the Catholic News Agency, which first broke the story, the pontiff is expected to visit the U.S. (namely Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York) for a week in late September of this year. It would make sense that he would take advantage of already being in the Western Hemisphere and continue his tour south. (Similarly, it is expected that he will visit his native Argentina as well as Chile and Uruguaysometime in 2016).
Given that Latin America is one of the last bastions of ardent Catholicism in the world, it’s no surprise that this Pope, a Latin American himself, will want to tour the region to reinvigorate the Catholic Church.
With that said, it is worth noting one country that has not been mentioned (so far) in the pontiff’s schedule: El Salvador. On Tuesday, February 3, Pope Francis approved the beatification of the late Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero from El Salvador. Romero was murdered in March 1980 by a death squad while celebrating a mass; his assassination is regarded as the opening act of the Central American country’s civil war, which lasted until 1992 and killed around 75,000 individuals. (Decades later, no one has been prosecuted for Romero’s murder).
There has been a broad support, not just in El Salvador but also internationally, for Romero to become a martyr due to his acts of charity while he was alive and his iconic death. Moreover, Pope Francis is known for supporting Romero’s beatification. According to the Catholic News Agency, on February 3 Pope Francis and Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, had a meeting during which the pontiff “authorized the promulgation of decrees recognizing the martyrdom of [Romero], paving the way for his beatification, as well as the martyrdom of three priests in Peru.”
Given this historical decision, it is odd that Pope Francis has chosen not to visit El Salvador this year. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that a date for the ceremony that will make Archbishop Romero a martyr has yet to be announced, meaning it is conceivable that the pontiff could make a brief stopover in El Salvador once the logistics of the ceremony are announced.
On the other hand, while a visit to Central America by Pope Francis has yet to be determined, the Bolivian government is pleased that the pontiff will visit the land-locked South American state this year. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who was recently re-elected for a new presidential term, will certainly utilize the Pope’s visit to increase morale among his 10 million compatriots, given that Bolivia’s economy will likely suffer this year in the wake of falling international oil prices and declining mineral exports.
Finally, one issue about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Bolivia deserves to be highlighted: neighboring Chile does not seem to be pleased with the visit. Bolivia and Chile have been at odds for over a century, since the 19th century War of the Pacific, in which Chile (with military support from the British Empire) annexed Bolivia’s coastal territories. To this day, Bolivia demands sea access, and to this end the Bolivian government has taken Chile to the International Court of Justice. Within this context, former Chilean President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) requested that the Bolivian government not “politicize” the visit or raise the Bolivian-Chilean dispute with the pontiff. In response, President Morales declared that Pope Francis was coming to Bolivia solely for religious, not political, motives. The Bolivian head of state also added, “if Chile is afraid, that is their problem.
Without a doubt, a papal visit is reason for the many Catholic nations in the Western Hemisphere to rejoice. Nevertheless, Latin American domestic politics as well as regional geopolitics are complex matters and are likely to rise to the surface. Even a visit by a pontiff who wants global peace and harmony can easily be politicized.

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