Pope’s Mass to be Held at Air Base

President Kuczynski, Cardinal Cipriani and Labor minister Alfono Grados at the door of the archbishop’s palace on Lima’s Plaza Mayor. Photo: Presidencia

President Kuczynski and his Labor minister Alfonso Grados crossed the square this week from the government palace to the archbishop’s palace , and together with Cardinal Cipriani announced their decision regarding Pope Francis’ visit in January —that the final mass in Lima, on Jan. 21, will be held at the Las Palmas air force base in the southwest district of Surco.

Until last week, the venue chosen by the Church was the Costa Verde oceanfront, and the space along the Magdalena-San Miguel sections was already being prepared to accommodate over one million people.  An ongoing argument with safety experts in the government, however, became public when the deputy minister of the Interior stated that the area posed a high risk  if a major earthquake should occur during the event.

Minister Grados, who heads the organization of the papal visit, at the time criticized the deputy minister for his hasty and ill-timed statement — both Grados and the President were visiting the pope in the Vatican — but the concern over safety has prevailed.

Labor minister Alfonso Grados, in charge of the organization of the papal visit, speaks to the press at the archbishop’s palace. Photo: Presidencia

“We debated the issue, and certainly I like the sea, but this solution is more feasible. I must thank Cardinal Cipriani and the Papal Nuncio for their understadning in the conversation we’ve had and which is reaching a very good conclusion,” Kuczynski said at the joint press conference.  He added that they had been looking at several options and that although the air base is not an ideal venue for a religious event, the city does not have any large park that could accommodate a large crowd.

“I hope there is easy access for the population, I cannot forget it is a military base,” said Cipriani, who had been reluctant to accept the change.  Cipriani held close relations to the military when he was auxiliary bishop in Ayacucho during the conflict with the Shining Path and has been a staunch defender of the military actions taken during the Fujimori administration.

“What’s most important is this will bring unity and peace,” said Kuczynski, who has hopes that the positive atmosphere of the pope’s visit, in a nation that is 80% Catholic, will influence attitudes across the political divisions.

Pope Francis I will visit Peru Jan. 18 to 21 next year, visiting Trujillo on the north coast and Puerto Maldonado in the southern rainforest, to end the journey in Lima.


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