Pope France begins a trip to Chile and Peru today with some viewing it as a mission to reinforce the Church's credibility which has been damaged by sexual abuse scandals.
Security has been tightened in Santiago after a series of attacks on Catholic churches in recent days.
"Even though the media has been preoccupied with talking about the church's polemics and especially about the figure of the Pope, I think that the most important thing here is to think about the message that the Pope will bring," said one Santiago resident.
But a poll by a Santiago-based think tank has shown that the number of Chileans calling themselves Catholics fell to 45 percent last year, from 74 percent in 1995.
Last week vandals attacked four churches throwing homemade bombs that caused minor damage and leaving notes threatening the pontiff.
On his visit to Peru, the second leg of the tour Francis will also run into a destabilising political corruption crisis.
A giant Christ statue in Peru's capital city donated by the Brazilian construction company at the center of Latin America's largest corruption scandal was damaged on Saturday in a fire just days before the visit.