The Pope’s most challenging trip yet

Although he is returning to his home region, the journey by Pope Francis to Chile and Peru this week will be among the most challenging trips he has undertaken.

On Monday, Pope Francis commenced a six-day visit to Chile and Peru that is expected to highlight the plight of the continent’s indigenous peoples, the decimation of the Amazon rainforests and the struggles of immigrants and the poor.

As is his custom, Pope Francis is expected to focus on people living on the margins of society, the poor and the sick, including meeting female prisoners and their children at a Santiago prison. He also has a scheduled lunch with indigenous people in Chile.

Huge crowds are expected at nearly every place Pope Francis will visit, and to line the streets to see his “Pope-Mobile”.

But the trip, the 22nd overseas trip during his tenure, threatens to be overshadowed by security concerns, political protests and the refugee crisis.

Authorities in Chile say nine Roman Catholic churches have been firebombed days before the pope is set to visit the Andean nation. The firebomb attacks happened in Santiago, the capital and largest city, where Pope Francis will arrive for the first leg of his trip.

More tension may come at the end of the week in Peru, where the Vatican recently took control of an apostolic society, Sodalitium Christianae Vitae (SCV), after allegations that its members abused youth.

A Vatican press release said Pope Francis had been following the investigation for several years and insisted that the church give attention to the matter, taking control of the group on 10 January.  

Families of the victims have told local newspapers that they would like to speak to the Pope. When asked if the Pope will meet with abuse victims, a Vatican official said it was not in the program. Pope Francis could face protests over the church's handling of this case.

The tensions are also evident on social media, where people in both countries have expressed both excitement and discontent with the Pope’s' visit.

Pope Francis is well aware of the challenges that await him in Chile and Peru.

He spent a year and a half living in Chile and has travelled to Peru multiple times. In a video message to both countries, recorded ahead of his visit, he specifically mentioned his knowledge of their difficult histories and his hope to share their pains and joys during his visit.

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