Chilean archbishop expresses pain, shame over fire that killed 14 migrants — By: Catholic News Agency

School children pay tribute to those killed in a Nov. 6, 2023, fire that left 14 migrants dead in a settlement in the Cerro Obligado neighborhood of the town of Coronel, Chile. / Credit: Facebook Page/Colonel Education

ACI Prensa Staff, Nov 10, 2023 / 18:40 pm (CNA).

The archbishop-elect of Santiago de Chile, Fernando Chomali, shared a reflection decrying the deplorable living conditions that led to a fire that left 14 migrants dead in a settlement in the Cerro Obligado neighborhood of the town of Coronel.

The tragedy occurred Nov. 6 in a house built with pallet wood and tin roofing in a camp where families of Venezuelan migrants live in very precarious conditions. Among the deceased are eight minors.

“Rage, helplessness, indignation, pain, sorrow; a lot of sorrow is experienced when children and adults die in a raging fire,” Chomali began his column posted on X.

But to these feelings he said he adds “shame, because the reign of apathy is the cause of these foreseeable and avoidable fires if people in extreme need had more support and more of a reception from the authorities.”

Referring to the lyrics of an old song, “Si vas para Chile” (“If you go to Chile”), Chomali said: “It’s hard to sing” the concluding verse that praises hospitality: “And you will see how they love a friend in Chile when he’s a stranger.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not always the case,” the prelate commented. “For years we have known about the precarious conditions in which these brothers of ours lived in Cerro Obligado in Coronel,” he lamented.

“Officials and businesses bogged down in eternal discussions and various lawsuits, the poor always pay the consequences,” he said.

Citing Scripture, Chomali pointed out the importance of giving priority “to children, widows, and migrants.” However, he noted that “in the midst of a globalized context and indifference, it’s the fires and these misfortunes that remind us of their existence.”

“Yesterday it was nursing homes, today it was children and migrants, and others will come. Yes, this is news that arouses astonishment, but then others will come and the most painful thing is that we are getting used to it,” he said.

Recalling the words of St. John Paul II during his visit to Chile, the archbishop reminded: “The poor can’t wait.” However, he lamented that “they’re still waiting.”

“Lampedusa in Italy, northern Chile, and now Coronel have become cemeteries. … Is that what we want for our country?” he questioned.

Finally, and on behalf of the Church, he regretted “not having done more for them” and that “it’s always too little.”

“We don’t try our utmost to do to others what we would like them to do to us. “That’s painful and embarrassing,” he said and asked forgiveness of the Venezuelan community in Chile, “for the degrading treatment they have had on more than one occasion and for the slowness of the immigration processes that paralyzes them and in practice leaves them as second-class people.”

The prelate pledged his prayer and stated that he will continue “on the path that we have undertaken for years through our migrant ministry.”

“Your presence enriches Chile and you don’t deserve what you are experiencing. I weep with you and I hope that that weeping becomes an even greater commitment,” Chomali concluded.

After more than 20 years of the socialist dictatorship initiated by former President Hugo Chavez and continued by his successor, political ally Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela is suffering from a social and economic crisis that many compare to Cuba’s.

A recent report from the Venezuelan Economic Finance Observatory reported that the annualized inflation rate in the country was 440%.

About 8 million Venezuelans have left the country to escape crushing poverty.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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