Jesuit Mapuche Mission
|Purpose||Support for the rights and culture of indigenous people|
|Fr. Carlos Bresciani, SJ|
Mapuche Jesuit Mission was founded in 2000 to assist the indigenous people of southern Chile to secure their rights with the national government and to defend their land from further encroachment.
Jesuit presence among the Mapuche dates back to 1596. This mission produced the three Jesuit Martyrs of Elicura in 1612, when they advised three women converted to Christianity that they could no longer remain in a polygamous relationship with the local chief. This mission ended with the suppression of the Society of Jesus in 1767.
Debate over the indigenous question in Chile, between 1811 and 1883, culminated in 1883 with the decision to expand control of the State to the Mapuche zones and the proclamation, in l883, of the end of "the Araucanian question." The Chilean army conquered the Mapuche in the Araucanía Region in 1883, seizing 90% of the indigenous territory and leaving the Mapuche with about a million acres. Between 1890 and 1935 the Bavarian Capuchin missionaries established a presence in the area that had the side effect of facilitating the Chilean state's effort to consolidate its occupation of Araucanía.
Before the founding of Mapuche Mission by the Jesuits, they were already serving in the area. A single parish extended 73 kilometers and served more than fifty chapels. Jesuit Fr. Mariano Campos worked among the Mapuches in Los Álamos, Sara de Lebu zone, during summers from 1955, and after 1970 lived permanently with them until his death in 1980. The Jesuit approach was to respect their culture and traditional religion, and to allow inculturated practices among those who became Catholic.
The Jesuit Mapuche Mission project was founded in the year 2000, working out of Tirúa. According to Fr. Carlos Bresciani who headed this mission for over 17 years, violence in La Araucanía is "exercised by the neoliberal extractivist political and economic model" and "there is an older historical cause that has to do with the usurpation of Mapuche lands that reduced them to poverty and humiliation." The Araucania, the main seat of the Mapuche people, houses about 3% of the population of Chile and half (500,000) of its indigenous peoples. Their region is rich in forest, grazing, and farming lands, but of the 10 million hectares in their homelands only about 700 thousand remain free of exploitation by lumber companies. About 25.7% of the Mapuche in the Araucania live below the poverty line, while the national average is only 11.7%.
The Jesuit Fr. Pablo Castro describes the situation:
The history of the current "conflict" can be traced back to the State confiscation of indigenous land towards the end of the 19th century. 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.... 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.
On the occasion of a hunger strike by some Mapuches in 2010, the Jesuits published a letter of explanation that the revised anti-terrorist law continues to fall short of international standards by branding as terrorist acts that are not against persons but rather underscore their legitimate demands for recognition of their rights. The Mapuche Mission Statement of the Society of Jesus declared: "The Mapuche demand cannot and should not be confused with violence against people and less with death. It is a life demand for this people and for all. We consider that police persecution, the use of anti-terrorist law, and the judicialization of conflict are not the tools for a root solution." In response to the media's labelling as terrorist the actions of Mapuche to protect their lands, this statement likened media coverage to the sensationalism generated by the Bush administration in the USA to justify its attack on Iraq, which brings up memories of all the atrocities committed by graduates of the US School of the Americas in suppressing peoples' movements against dictatorial governments in Latin America.
Loggers encroached on Mapuche lands with governmental approval and tensions built up, leading to isolated violent reactions on both sides. In 2011 the Catholic diocese produced a pastoral letter "For a Justice at the Service of Life" and formed a commission to address the demands of the Mapuche. This letter was instrumental in ending an 87-day hunger strike of four villagers.
In its monthly newsletter, the Mission reports on initiatives which it helps facilitate, like that of four Catholic dioceses spanning Argentina and Chile (Los Angeles, Concepcion, Temuco, and Villarrica) which meet every two months to offer training and reflection activities, tackling issues like access to water.
In 2011 a Jesuit from the center was arrested in a demonstration on behalf of a Mapuche accused in the death of a special forces sergeant, though the chief evidence was triangulation on his cell phone placing him near the area at the time. Some claim that this case is typical of the persecution of the Machupe, the bias of the prosecutor Luis Chamorro, and of lies by the police officers who are defending the interests of big business. Meanwhile, the government moved forward with further occupation of Mapuche lands, the forest law, the airport, and the hydroelectric plant at the ceremonial site in Pilmaikén. Jesuits at the Mission wrote that "It seems to us that in this election year, an increasingly conflictive scenario is being prepared for the next government."
In November 2013 members of the Jesuit Mission reported that the head of Hogar de Cristo in the area was living with them, and that youth groups had organized to occupy lands and to frustrate the efforts of the logging companies. In an interview with La Segunda newspaper, Bresciani stated: "What the State did not do in law, the communities are actually doing," and the solution is to grant them autonomy.
In February 2015, at the instance of only minor concessions by the national government, the Center insisted on the need for seats reserved for the Mapuche in the national Parliament and local governing bodies, and the establishment of self-government at a local level where they form most of the population. They should not be so tied to the national system as to obliterate their local politics, economy, and culture.
In July 2016 the Mission criticized the efforts of truck drivers and the logging industry to declare a state of emergency and to bring in more government troops, when dialogue was what was needed and resolution of the historic conflict. A Presidential Advisory Commission, instituted in July 2016 and chaired by Catholic Bishop Héctor Vargas, submitted to President Michelle Bachelet a proposal for Constitutional recognition of indigenous people and their representation in Parliament. It also recommended creating a national registry of victims of violence and compensating them, along with support for Mapuche economic development and return of their lands.
In January 2017 Fr. David Soto of the Jesuit Mission wrote a column for The Fifth Power in Santiago pointing out that in addition to the injustices of appropriating the territory for economic purposes and leaving behind poverty, pollution, water depletion, confrontation between communities, and desertified soil, there is also racism evident in acts of violence against the Mapuche that occurred in hospital situations leading to peaceful demonstrations, as in Tirúa in 2016 but also at other times, and this violence has been covered up by Grupo de Operaciones Policiales Especiales which has been deployed to the territory. In 2017 the Jesuits along with other social activist groups called for the formal apology of President Michelle Bachelet to go beyond words to concrete action.
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