Helping them to help themselves: pastoral Mapuche in Chile


Mapuche (Che = People; Mapu = of the land) is the largest ethnic group in Chile, constituting approximately 10% of its total population. Around half of the Mapuche population lives in the South of Chile, the Andes and alongside the Bi?o Bi?o river. The other half is found in and around the capital, Santiago. Until this day the situation of the Mapuches in Chile is still vulnerable.

During the military regime of President Pinochet, their land was privatized, and to a large extent was sold to wealthy landlords and foreigners. Pinochet also introduced a new law, according to which there were no indigenous people in Chile but only Chileans. They lost of a large quantity of their land resulted in their migration to big cities. The Mapuches who migrated to the cities soon gave up their culture in order to be able to get a place in society. So many of them changed their Mapuche names into Chilean ones, and avoided passing on their culture to their children.

Responding to the cause of the Mapuches, the Divine Word Missionaries in Chile took responsibility for the parish of Puerto Dominguez in 1986 and made it the center of its work for the Mapuches. This is was followed by accepting a second parish in Quepe in 1993. In 2003 the Mapuche Pastoral Office was set up in Santiago.

“The salient features of our ministry among these people are built on sound principles of human development. Our missionaries encourage them to appreciate and assert their identity and culture, and motivate them to take responsibly for their own development. The great test for the ministry among the Mapuches is how to balance justice, which was sometimes denied to them in the past, with how they may regain their rights and privileges through non-violent means. The challenge for our parishes in the Mapuche area is how to attend to their socio-economic needs along with the pastoral work.”

Keeping in mind the recent motto of the leadership team of the Congregation of the Divine Word Missionaries in Rome, “putting the last first”, we are thankful and appreciate the dedicated work of our missionaries among the Mapuches. Napoleon said “the world suffers a lot not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people!” As Divine Word Missionaries, known for championing the cause of the poor and the people on the periphery, the Divine Word Misionaries in Chile are called upon to treat the ministry among the Mapuches in a privileged position.