A gathering of thousands of Chileans, on Sunday, in central Santiago, to mark the anniversary of protests last year that left 30 dead, descended into violence and looting which saw two Catholic churches burned.
The churches of St Francis Borgia and Our Lady of the Assumption were set aflame. The spire of the latter crashed to the ground while a nearby crowd cheered. Several religious items were also stolen, according to a church official.
St Francis Borgia is home to institutional ceremonies for Chile’s national police force. The “Carabineros” are known for their repressive tactics and use of anti-riot weapons which have caused 345 eye injuries according to a U.N. report.
The Chilean Bishops’ Conference issued a statement on the 18th calling for peace:
“These violent groups contrast with many others who have demonstrated peacefully. The vast majority of Chile yearns for justice and effective measures that help to overcome inequality. They do not want more corruption or abuse; they expect dignified, respectful and fair treatment.”
The burning of the churches comes during the continuing fallout from the Chilean abuse scandal, which last year resulted in the Pope Francis obliging Chile’s 34 bishops to resign. Chilean investigators questioned 167 church officials and worker about abuse claims and the systematic cover-up of the scandal.
On 25th October, Chileans will vote in a national referendum about the future of their constitution. They will decide whether their current constitution, written during the Pinochet regime, should be rewritten.
Chile’s Interior Minister praised the early peaceful protest but slammed the later violence. In comments made to reporters, he said that “those who carry out these acts of violence do not want Chileans to solve our problems through democratic means.”