VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis set off on a trip to Chile and Peru on Monday, a seven-day Latin-American visit which will see the pontiff rally a flagging local church on his home continent.
The 81-year- old Argentine, who set off from Rome’s Fiumicino airport shortly before 9 a.m. (0800 GMT), will hop on 10 flights to travel over 30,000 kilometers through hot and humid climates for his 22nd trip abroad.
On the eve of his departure, at least two people were killed and 65 wounded in a 7.3 magnitude earthquake that hit southern Peru, a country at the mercy of high seismic activity.
The Vatican’s number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, admitted last week that this “will not be a simple trip” for Francis.
On his visit to Chile, the pope faces protests from victim support groups over sex abuse scandals dogging the church.
He also risks a frosty reception among indigenous populations who have long protested the theft of ancestral lands by Spanish colonists and have recently taken to torching not only farms in protest but also churches.
The pontiff will have to tread carefully politically in Peru, which has been shaken by protests after the highly controversial early release this month of former president Alberto Fujimori who had been jailed for human rights abuses.
During the three days he will remain in Chile, Francis will meet with victims of the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, though there are no formal plans to meet victims of pedophile priests.
Bachelet, who will meet Francis on Tuesday, has called on Chileans to welcome the pope, though a positive reception may not be universal.
On Friday, three Catholic Churches in the capital were firebombed by what police said was an anarchist group. Demonstrations are planned by feminist and gay rights groups.
The highlight of the three-day visit will be an open air mass in a Santiago city park on Tuesday.
Another is due at the airport in Temuco, the capital of the impoverished southern Araucania region on Wednesday. He is to expected to draw attention to state persecution of the indigenous Mapuche people and also meet members of the community.
Mapuche natives—some seven percent of the Chilean population—inhabited a vast territory before the arrival of Spanish colonists in 1541, and have long protested the loss of ancestral lands.
During his visit to Chile, the pope will also meet representative of the poor and young people, as well as visit a women’s prison.