By Junno Arocho Esteves
(OSV News) — Peru’s bishops pleaded for peace as violent protests against the country’s current president and legislature have claimed the lives of dozens of people.
“We deplore the violence that has been unleashed because violence only begets more violence,” the Peruvian bishops’ conference said in a message published Jan. 20. “The death of more than 50 Peruvian brothers and sisters is a deep wound in the heart of our people, as well as the suffering of all the wounded, civilians and police.”
“This demands a decisive change of course: We want peace!” the message said.
The bishops’ appeal for peace received support from Pope Francis who called on pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square to “pray that the acts of violence in Peru might cease.”
“I encourage all the parties involved to undertake the path of dialogue as brothers of the same nation, in full respect for human rights and the rule of law,” the pope said Jan. 22 during his Sunday Angelus address.
“I join the Peruvian bishops in saying: ‘No a la violencia, venga de donde venga! ¡No más muertes!’ (‘No to violence wherever it comes from! No more deaths!’),” he said.
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.
According to The Associated Press, the protests and violent clashes between police and protesters have led to the indefinite closure of Machu Picchu, the 15th-century Incan citadel.
The civil unrest blocked transportation to and from Machu Picchu, resulting in hundreds of visitors left stranded at the ancient site.
In their message, the bishops of Peru said the violent protests are a source of “great pain” and said the senseless deaths “must not go unpunished.”
“In Peru, we are all needed to build the homeland,” the message said. “Let’s stop hurting each other! No more confrontations! This situation demands dialogue, listening and resolve.”
Citing “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on fraternity and social friendships, the bishops offered to mediate the conflict in order to “build bridges of encounter.”
The bishops also called for unity and for those on both sides of the political unrest to stop “promoting polarization.”
Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo echoed similar sentiments in an interview published Jan. 19 on his archdiocese’s website. The cardinal said the protests are due to the public perception of “an open and provocative confrontation” between the country’s executive and legislative branches of government.
However, he said, “the underlying problem is the diversity of political and ideological positions within the Congress of the Republic.”
Cardinal Barreto added that as a result of the political and ideological divisiveness, “Peruvian society has entered into a spiral of verbal violence between extremes, with the vileness of insults and the lack of basic respect for the individual.”
“Meanwhile, it is society that experiences the consequences of social and political conflict: violence, social and economic inequalities, polarization, corruption and lack of hope, especially among the poorest,” he said.
Junno Arocho Esteves writes for OSV News from Rome.