Peru is a nation of devout people struggling with many challenges, including the ramifications of El Niño. This is the country Pope Francis will visit in January 2018.
To get a sense of what to expect from the visit, we spoke with Franklin Cornejo Urbina, a doctorate in communication from the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Director of the School of Journalism at Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University (Lima, Peru). He shares his frank reflections on the pope’s upcoming visit to Peru.
No pope since John Paul II (in 1988) has visited Peru. What do people expect from this visit?
What we expect from Pope Francis’ visit to Peru is the renewal of the Peruvian people’s faith through an encounter with the Vicar of Christ. On the part of Pope Francis, we expect a message of hope for the thousands of Peruvians who lost their homes and crops (some reports indicate a number of more than 100,000 affected people) due to the floods caused by the “coastal El Niño” climate phenomenon at the beginning of this year. To this end, Pope Francis has chosen to visit the city of Trujillo (on the northern coast), where he will celebrate an open-air Mass for thousands of people and visit affected areas.
He will also visit Madre de Dios, a region of the Peruvian jungle on the border of the Amazon, where it is hoped he can meet with the indigenous people who live there. He is expected to issue a call for action, based on the encyclical Laudato Si’, regarding the condition of the environment and the risks of deforestation, illegal mining, and human trafficking in that area, which is far from Lima, the capital of Peru.
Today [the day of the interview] is the feast of St. Rose of Lima.
Yes, Peru is a devout and fervent nation, and that experience will be strengthened by Pope Francis’ visit to the venerated image of Our Lord of Miracles (at the Church of the Nazarenes). Also, at the Cathedral of Lima, the relics of the great Peruvian saints, St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres (the first black saint of the Americas), will be exposed for veneration. A Mass will be celebrated in Lima at the Costa Verde beaches; nearly two million people are expected to attend.
Will the pope have access to the complex reality of Peru, or do you anticipate that an institutional barrier will be created to deny what is really happening?
I think that the pope will have access to the complex reality of Peru. Although it is a country that has experienced decades of economic growth, there are still significant portions of the population living in poverty.
In fact, for his trip to Peru, the pope chose locations that are going through difficult times, such as Trijullo (which is in a period of reconstruction after the “coastal El Niño” climate phenomenon) and Madre de Dios, an Amazonian region where indigenous people are seeking to claim their rights, and where the population is among the poorest in the country. For this reason, it is my understanding that the Peruvian government and the Peruvian Episcopal Conference have accepted the pope’s travel plan to arrive at those places without institutional barriers.
Is Peruvian society open to diversity and differences?The pope makes frequent calls for a welcoming culture.
Peruvian society, not without difficulty, always seeks to open itself up to diversity and differences. Various ethnic and regional groups have lived on Peruvian territory since pre-Incan times, and they seek, from within the particularities of their culture, to form part of the nation.
Solidarity and welcome are a part of the local cultures and family life of the Peruvian people, and this has allowed them to deal with the country’s colonial past, and with the internal political violence and the situation of economic crisis of the 1980s. The Catholic Church has been present within that solidarity and welcome.
The pope has asked you all to work for unity.Are you doing it?
We are working for unity in the country when we seek to solve social problems through dialogue so as to avoid violence.
The decentralization of the State’s structure and policies, in favor of individual regions, is another concrete way of seeking unity, as well as public policies of social inclusion for children, young people, and the elderly.
Pope Francis will find a Peru that seeks values in order to place the human person at the center of development and national unity; and on that path, the country is following Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints, to find energy and strength.