Pope’s Visit — Squabbles Among the Planners

The stretch of beach along the Costa Verde being already conditioned for a papal mass for close to two million people in Jan. 2018.

President Kuczynski’s enthusiasm that Pope Francis’ visit in January next year will “unite Peruvians and open up paths of hope for the future” has just met one of its first, or at least public, dampeners as squabbles erupt over the venue for the final mass.

The initial choice of location for the mass, expected to attract up to two million people on Jan.21, was the Costa Verde, on the wide stretch of beach in the Magdalena district.  Magdalena’s mayor, Francis Allison, said the Vatican had opted for the beach even though the government had preferred the Las Palmas air force base.

However, while Kuczynski was still in Rome, the deputy minister of the Interior publicly announced that the Costa Verde was unsuitable    Ricardo Valdes said the reasons were two — the cliffs and the sea.  In an interview on Canal N TV, Valdes said there are too few escape routes on the Costa Verde if an earthquake and tsunami should occur during the event. Besides the Las Palmas base, Valdes said equally large open spaces were being scouted out north and south of the city.

The recent earthquake in Mexico has led seismic experts in Peru to stress the need for earthquake preparedness at all times, particularly in Lima with a population of over 10 million, considering there have been no major quakes in over 270 years.

Labor minister Alfonso Grados, who heads the huge organizational task in Peru for the pope’s visit, said Valdes’ statement had been hasty and inappropriate and that proper security measures were being planned for the Costa Verde.  Work has already begun on conditioning the terrain.

Both Allison and the mayor of San Miguel, Eduardo Bless, said on RPP that they would support whatever decision was made on the location, but Lima’s archbishop, Cardinal Cipriani, has not been as amenable to a possible change.

“I have not been informed of any change,“ said Cipriani during his Saturday morning radio show on RPP.

Cipriani questioned the authority of anyone other than President Kuczynski and minister Grados in the decisions regarding the papal visit. “It’s one thing to prepare and warn the population,” he said. “It’s another to create panic about whether there is an earthquake tomorrow or the day after. Let’s not be prophets of doom. Let’s be people who prevent, educate, help, stimulate and begin to do things so that we are ready for when an earthquake does occur.”

But there is more to the cardinal’s preference for the Costa Verde than is immediately obvious, at least according to  Rosa Maria Palacios and Augusto Alvarez Rodrich, both columnists for La Republica daily.

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, second from left, and the heads of the Peruvian Conference of Bishops. Photo: Arzobispado de Lima

The Costa Verde is within the cardinal’s jurisdiction, whereas the Las Palmas air base falls under the jurisdiction of the military bishop, Juan Carlos Vera, who would be expected to preside over the mass with the pope or at least share the stage with the cardinal.

According to Alvarez Rodrich, Cipriani has also been boycotting efforts by the Peruvian Conference of Bishops in sharing any responsibility in the papal events in January.  There is little love lost between them. The bishops, bucking decades  if not centuries of tradition, have never elected Cipriani to head the conference in the 18 years since he became Archbishop of Lima. Cipriani has promoted the appointment of several Opus Dei bishops in the provinces, hoping to tip the balance in his favor, but to no avail.  He is hoping, says Alvarez Rodrich, to earn a nod from Pope Francis during the upcoming visit and thus influence the election to head the bishops for his final year before retiring in Dec. 2018 at the age of 75.


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