CNA Staff, Nov 9, 2020 / 08:04 pm (CNA).- A group of militants charged into a Catholic church in Argentina on Friday, beat the priest, desecrated the Eucharist, and vandalized the interior of the church. Five were eventually apprehended.

The attack took place at Our Lady of Luján Parish, located in the town of El Bolsón in Argentina’s Patagonia region near the Chilean border.

The militants were Mapuche activists. The Mapuche are an indigenous people inhabiting present day south-central Chile and southwestern Argentina, including parts of Patagonia. Militants have resorted in recent years to violence over land disputes, particularly targeting Catholic churches.

The vandals beat the parish pastor, Franciscan friar Fr. Ricardo Cittadini, briefly took another Franciscan hostage, broke sacred images, and overturned pews.

Un ciudadano envió a @aciprensa un video en el que se aprecia como quedó una parroquia en la Patagonia argentina tras el violento ataque y profanación por parte de vándalos mapuches pic.twitter.com/ASLrVHMw4O

— David Ramos (@YoDash) November 7, 2020

A video sent by a local Catholic to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language news partner, shows the damage inflicted to the Church.

The video shows statues of saints and a crucifix destroyed, pews broken, and the church’s tabernacle opened, with a chalice and ciborium thrown to the ground.

According to the AICA news agency, two women entered the church after asking to use the restroom. They subsequently opened the door for several more militants, who surprised and attacked the priest and another member of the community.

Before fleeing, the militants hung an Argentine flag stained with red paint in one of the windows.

AICA reported that the attack was related to an eviction ruling that orderedMapuche group Winkul Lafken Mapu from land they had occupied in the town of Villa Mascardi, located about 20 miles southwest of Bariloche.

The land is owned by the Diocese of San Isidro. Execution of an eviction order had been postponed at request of the diocese, until security measures could be put in place for those being evicted and for police charged with carrying out the order.

The Diocese of Bariloche issued a statement lamenting desecration of the church, and expressing solidarity with “our Franciscan brothers and with the community of faithful Catholics” of the Our Lady of Luján parish.

“Violence of any kind, whether about the (land) claims or in the responses to them, is never, nor will it ever be, a solution, but rather aggravates existing conflicts. The first victim of violence is peace and harmony between people,” said Bishop Juan José Chaparro of Bariloche, in a statement after the attack.

“While understanding the respect that some members of the Mapuche people ask for, the Church, however, also demands respect and consideration for a sacred place for Catholics, such as a church, especially taking into account that the bishop has listened and dialogued on an ongoing basis with all those who have come to him.”

The diocese stressed that “the national government must assume – without delay – its proper responsibility for solving the conflicts that have arisen from the claims of the native peoples (such as the Mapuches), which have come up in many places in the national territory, not just in Patagonia.”

In doing this, “legitimate rights, differentiating them from those that may not be, must be recognized in the corresponding cases; the legal mechanisms immediately set in motion so those legitimate rights can be effectively exercised.”

“It is the longstanding reluctance of the national government to fulfill this responsibility” that is the main reason “the conflicts are growing and intensifying every day,” the statement said.

“Out of our faith we implore God our Father, to inspire in us all, sentiments of justice and peace.”

A version of this report was first published by ACI-Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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