Peruvian cardinal says pope supports church taking lead in negotiating peace

By Junno Arocho Esteves | OSV News

ROME (OSV News) — Pope Francis expressed his support for the Catholic Church to take the lead in facilitating a dialogue between the Peruvian government and demonstrators, Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo said in a conversation with OSV News.

Cardinal Barreto, who met privately with the pope March 4, said he informed the pontiff that several institutions in the country “have sought out the church, and have spoken to me personally, to see how we can jointly create a roundtable of dialogue for Peru, independent of our faith or of the political instances that may exist.”

Pope Francis “expressed to me his support to this roundtable of dialogue for Peru, given the fact that, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he proposed a similar roundtable of dialogue for peace in Argentina,” the cardinal told OSV News March 5.

The pope, he added, was “very lucid” during the meeting, and his understanding and empathy toward Peruvians “confirmed to me that he is a very great grace for the church and also, needless to say, for humanity because he is seen as a world leader.”

“He is able to understand the problems (because) he also lived through very difficult times of wars and dictatorships in Argentina,” the cardinal said.

Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo is pictured at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome Sept. 22, 2021. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Protests erupted in Peru in early December after then-President Pedro Castillo was impeached by the country’s Congress after he expressed his intention to dissolve it.

Castillo’s election in 2021 was seen as a rejection of Peru’s political establishment. However, throughout his brief term as president, he was marred by accusations of corruption. After his impeachment, Castillo attempted to flee Peru but was detained by police and currently remains in custody.

Protesters, many of whom are supporters of the former president, are calling for the removal of Dina Baluarte, the former vice president who became the country’s leader after Castillo’s impeachment, as well as for the dissolution of the current Congress.

Dozens have been killed and over 1,000 people injured since the protests began in December. A group of U.N.-appointed observers expressed concerns amid allegations that government forces were arbitrarily killing protesters as well as targeting journalists reporting on the protests.

“The experts noted that the repression by state authorities had disproportionately affected human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, and peasant communities across Peru,” the U.N. said in a March 6 statement.

Cardinal Barreto told OSV News that the protests have hampered the efforts of an initiative launched by the Peruvian bishops’ conference in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initiative, titled “Resucita Perú Ahora” (“Resurrect Peru Now”), he explained, was created not only to confront the challenges facing the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, but to also confront societal ills, such as corruption, indifference and exclusion.

However, “the problem is so serious now, from the political point of view, and it has already totally overrun this proposal” due to the “unprecedented violence,” he said.

Demonstrators clash with security forces near the Juliaca, Peru, airport during a Jan. 9, 2023, protest demanding early elections and the release of jailed former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo. (OSV News photo/Hugo Courotto, Reuters)

“Unfortunately we must recognize that since Dec. 7, the government, the armed forces, with President Dina Boluarte at the helm, have not had an attitude, I would say, of understanding the very serious problem (in Peru) and have acted not only recklessly but criminally because now many witness testimonies are coming to light of people who had nothing to do with the violence being shot and killed.”

Peruvians, he continued, are “reacting to a long-standing attitude of social injustice” in the country and “the vast majority does not want violence, but they do want justice.”

“The Catholic Church has tried by various means to help in this, but so far it has not been possible to reach a consensus among the churches — not only Christian, but also non-Christian churches in Peru, in civil society — to join forces,” the cardinal said.

The country’s problems, he added, are “very complex” and cannot “be solved by one institution or one person, but instead must be the result of everyone working together.”

Furthermore, the cardinal said that violence against protesters “has only brought the government into disrepute” and that legislators have been unable to unite for the good of the country because “there are still ulterior agendas that are not fundamentally inspiring of a greater justice, but run counter to the interests shared by certain sectors of society and the church.”

Nevertheless, Cardinal Barreto told OSV News that there are still “some signs of hope” and expressed his hope that “we can have opportunities for genuine dialogue.

“We have to prepare this dialogue because there are people who are very hurt, because of the deaths, because of the wounded, because of the consequences and also because of the inflammatory words of various sectors which, instead of helping to create this channel of peace, demand a confrontation,” he said.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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