Christ Statue in Peru Damaged By Fire Days Before Pope Visit
An abridged and adapted Article of the Associated Press original
A giant Christ statue in Peru’s capital that was donated by a construction company at the center of Latin America’s largest corruption scandal was damaged Saturday in a fire, days before Pope Francis is set to arrive in the South American nation. Peruvians awoke to find nearly the entire back of the statue, perched on a barren desert bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, charred black. A spokesperson with Peru’s firefighting corps told said that two dozen firefighters responded to the blaze and that an early working theory was the “Christ of the Pacific” was purposely set aflame.
The Christ statue’s burning comes five days before Francis is scheduled to arrive in Peru.
The pope has hoped to highlight the need to protect the Amazon rainforest during his visit, but Peruvians will be paying close attention to whether he addresses corruption. It’s an issue close to his heart, and he has called graft more insidious than sin and a plague that hurts the poorest the most. The statue cost about $1 million, Odebrecht said in 2011.
Alan Garcia, whose second stint as Peru’s president ran from 2006 to 2011 and who’s under preliminary investigation into whether he took Odebrecht bribes, has said he contributed about $30,000 out of his own pocket for its construction. “I want it to be a figure that blesses Peru,” Garcia said at the time. Francis will arrive first in Chile on Monday. Authorities there are on guard after several Roman Catholic churches in the capital, Santiago, were firebombed with pamphlets left at one scene threatening the pontiff: “The next bombs will be in your cassock.” The pamphlets also extolled the cause of the Mapuche indigenous people, who are pushing for a return of ancestral lands and other rights.
Some regard the burning of the statue as a bad omen. Others attribute it to the unpopularity of the Catholic Church by the many social, political and religious factions in South America. The clerical sexual abuse issue has turned many once devoted Catholics into a vociferous opposition to their priest and Bishops. That is now being directed at both the Vatican – which has known about much of the abuse and which did nothing. The Pope’s visit has culminated in much of the anger being directed at the Pope.