Iglesia La Batalla (The Battle Church) in Collipulli, Chile Reduced to Rubble and Ashes by Arson Fire
08/11/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern): International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on August 9, a church in Collipulli was completely destroyed by the Mapuche Resistance of the Malleco Province. The Mapuche are an indigenous group mainly based in southern Chile who are seeking and demanding rights to self-determination, recognition, and specific territories of the country. This is the latest incident in a string of church burnings in recent months, leaving several communities without a place of worship and thereby infringing on the rights of individuals to freely exercise and practice their faith.
Police officials were able to confirm the Resistance’s responsibility for the incident as several pamphlets and signs were left behind with the group’s name inscribed on them.
Pamela Contreras, a public prosecutor in the jurisdictional district of nearby Angol, issued a statement clarifying, “There were not electrical circuits which could have caused the fire and, according to the point of ignition, this incident has the character of being intentional.”
The Austral of Araucania, a local newspaper, interviewed Cristina Hidalgo, an affected victim. Ms. Hidalgo noted that, having heard of other church burnings in adjacent cities, she and other members of the community tried to prepare in case of an attack. Ms. Hidalgo shared her experience and stated, “With sadness I looked at how 99 percent of the structure was completely floored and smoking. The only thing that was left was a church bell a few feet from the chapel. To me, every act that is related to vandalism generates rejection, regardless of the group that does it.”
The Mapuche Resistance was also responsible for the burning of another church in the nearby city of Pidima. This burning took place on August 3. According to local reports, the Mapuche Resistance recently declined an offer to have a round table discussion with Chilean government officials.
As a result of political unrest and recurrent protests, churches have become targets of violence and harassment. Veronica Neffinger, editor at Christian Headlines, stated, “Police reported that at least 16 churches, both Protestant and Catholic, have been burned and desecrated in the past year. Many of the protesters are students who want the government to restore native lands that were overtaken by Spanish invaders or more recent government authorities.”
Rafael Cardona, ICC’s Latin America Correspondent, states, “ICC is deeply disturbed by the continuing burning and desecration of churches in Latin American countries in recent months. The recent arson incidents in Chile are an indication of how a country’s internal political struggles can lead to the erosion of human rights and religious liberty. We call on any disaffected and aggrieved groups within Chile to seek amicable and peaceful means of resolving their issues with the government. We also call on these groups to refrain from targeting, harassing, and destroying churches. ICC prays for the affected individuals and communities suffering from attacks on their places of worship.”
For interviews with Rafael Cardona, ICC’s Latin America Correspondent, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org