• Priest baptizes woman in a Mapuche community in Chile, ahead of Pope's visit. He will celebrate Mass for the Mapuche and break bread during a private lunch. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)Source: AP Photo/Esteban Felix
Francis' trip was meant to highlight the plight of Indigenous peoples and immigrants, as well as underscoring the need to preserve the Amazon rainforest and eradicating illegal mining. However, sexual abuse by priests has taken front and centre in the weeks before his arrival.

17 Jan 2018 - 10:51 AM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2018 - 10:55 AM

Pope Francis’ weeklong visit to Chile and Peru was expected to focus on discrimination and environmental conservation awareness, but instead, the tour has been marred with controversy, with protests over sexual abuse by priests staged by many Chileans deeply sceptical about the Roman Catholic Church, even before the Pope’s landing.

It's the pope's first visit to the Andean nation of 17 million people since taking the reins of the church in 2013. It comes at a time when many Chileans are furious over Francis' 2015 decision to appoint a bishop close to the Rev Fernando Karadima, who the Vatican found guilty in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over decades.

Despite the protests, the Pope is scheduled to visit the southern city of Temuco to meet with Indigenous Mapuche representatives. Some Mapuche groups have been battling private developers and government entities demanding the return of ancestral land rights.    

Many Mapuche leaders have reportedly condemned the protests leading the Pope’s visit.

On Thursday, Pope Francis will head to Peru for a three-day visit, where he is also expected to meet with Indigenous representatives in the Amazonian gateway city of Puerto Maldonado.

Puerto Maldonado sits amidst an illegal gold mining hotspot, where environmental damage, forced labour and prostitution are rife. Indigenous peoples have long complained that they’re increasingly being pushed off their lands by mining gangs.  

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