Chile Churches Bombed Days Before Pope's Visit

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SANTIAGO, Chile -- President Michelle Bachelet asked Chileans on Friday to receive Pope Francis in a "climate of respect," hours after three Roman Catholic churches were firebombed and a note was left at the scene threatening the pontiff.

In the overnight attacks in Santiago, the capital and largest city where the pope will arrive Monday, the churches were hit with firebombs and then sprayed with accelerant. At one, the doors were burned before the blaze was doused.

"The next bombs will be in your cassock," read pamphlets found outside one of the churches.

A bomb squad was also deployed to a fourth church, where a barrel of flammable liquid was believed to be inside.

The pamphlets also extolled the cause of the Mapuche indigenous people, who are pushing for a return of ancestral lands and other rights. Francis will celebrate Mass and meet with Mapuches in the southern city of Temuco on Wednesday.

After a security meeting, Bachelet said the Andean nation of 17 million was prepared for the first papal visit since Saint John Paul II's visit in 1987.

"I also want to invite you all to experience this visit in a climate of respect, solidarity and happiness," Bachelet said.

There were no immediate arrests in the firebombings, and authorities downplayed their significance with Interior Ministry official Mahmud Aleuy calling the damage "minor."

Earlier this week, police said 18,000 officers would be deployed during Francis' visits to Santiago, Temuco and the northern city of Iquique.

It was unclear who might have been behind Friday's attacks. A small minority of Mapuches have used violence to further their cause, and in recent years churches have been targeted.

Chile also has a handful of anarchist groups that periodically attack property and clash with police during protests.

The pamphlet that threatened the pope mentioned the Mapuche cause and called for the liberation of "all political prisoners in the world."

Francis' visit to Chile and Peru aims to highlight immigration, the suffering of indigenous peoples and protecting the Amazon rain forest.

However, sex abuse in the Chilean church and political instability in Peru have become central themes of his visit.

Information for this article was contributed by Eva Vergara and Peter Prengaman of The Associated Press.

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