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Three churches firebombed in Chile before pope's arrival

By Allen Cone
On Friday, a woman walks in front of the Cristo Pobre Church whose facade walls were painted with messages against Pope Francis' visit in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Mario Ruiz/EPA
On Friday, a woman walks in front of the Cristo Pobre Church whose facade walls were painted with messages against Pope Francis' visit in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Mario Ruiz/EPA

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- Three churches were hit by firebombs and graffiti in Santiago, Chile, three days before Pope Francis' visit to the South American country, authorities reported.

The churches sustained damage, including to the doors and faces, according to report by The Santiago Times. Police also defused two other explosives that didn't detonate at two other churches later in the day, The New York Times reported.

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No one was injured, and only minor physical damage was reported, authorities said.

The unknown attackers left messages on the buildings threatening the pontiff.

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One read: "Pope Francis, the next bomb will be in your robe," authorities said.

The pamphlets also noted the plight of the Mapuche, an indigenous people battling loggers and farmers in the impoverished region of Araucanía in southern Chile.

The nation's leaders urged for peaceful protests.

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"One has the right to protest, but it's a different thing entirely to use violence," Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy told reporters Friday after inspecting the damage.

President-elect Sebastian Piñera also condemned "the acts of violence" in Spanish on Twitter. "The hatred and intolerance cannot prevail above the respect and the rule of law. We receive the Francis Pope with joy and peace," Chile's next head of state said.

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Francis, the first Latin American pope, is scheduled to arrive in Chile on Monday -- the first papal visit to the nation since John Paul II's visit in 1987.

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The pope, who is from Argentina, is planning a Mass on Tuesday in a Santiago park that is expected to attract more than 500,000 people.

Francis will also visit Temuco and Iquique before heading to Peru.

He is facing controversy in Chile.

The organization BishopAccountability.org published research showing that almost 80 members of the clergy in Chile have been accused of sexual abuse since 2000. More than half were convicted in court or by the Vatican, according to the report this week.

The Rev. Fernando Karadima, the former head of El Bosque parish in Santiago, was sentenced to life of penitence and prayer because he abused boys.

No actions have been taken against the bishops, who victims say covered up his crimes.

Also, the nation is debating same-sex marriage legislation.

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