Pope in Colombia to promote unity

by Garry Watts September 8, 2017, 0:32
Pope in Colombia to promote unity

"This is not achieved simply with those of 'pure blood, ' but by all", the Pope told Santos and government officials September 7 outside the Casa de Narino, Colombia's presidential palace. A teenage boy, born in 2004 to vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas when she was held captive in the jungle by the FARC, handed Francis a white porcelain dove as a welcome present.

Francis tried unsuccessfully to mediate between Santos and the lead opponent of the accord, conservative leader Alvaro Uribe.

Hope is a major theme for the visit, as Francis seeks to encourage Colombians to reconcile with one another after five decades of armed rebellion.

His motorcade moved slowly from the airport to the Vatican embassy in central Bogota, the Colombian capital.

Francis said he hoped the determination to achieve lasting peace should "help us flee from the temptation to vengeance and the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests".

On the first full day of his four-city tour, the Argentine pontiff, 80, is scheduled to meet with young people and with President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss his aim of sealing a "complete peace".

Despite the pope's blessing, the peace process has been fraught with division.

Speaking about the Church in Colombia, the pontiff said that he's conscious that the principle of the Gospels make up part of the social fabric and thus can contribute to the growth of the country, particularly "sacrosanct respect for human life, above all for the weakest and most defenseless, is a cornerstone in the formation of a society free from violence", and the family, "envisioned by God to be the fruit of spousal love". We do not want any kind of violence to restrict or annul even one more life.

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The Vatican a year ago sponsored dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition and bishops from the country are slated to meet with Francis in Colombia as pressure builds on Venezuela's embattled socialist leader to yield power.

He then reminded the media that "this plane we will fly over Venezuela", and here, too, he asked them to "pray that it can dialogue, a dialogue with everyone, so that the country can have good stability".

A half-hour into the flight, Francis told journalists he wanted to "help Colombia in its path of peace".

On Thursday Francis will meet with Santos and Catholic leaders. He will travel later in the week to the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.

And the meeting will be framed by one of the most poignant symbols of the conflict: a mutilated Christ statue that was rescued from a church in the western town of Bojaya after a FARC mortar attack in 2012.

Pope Francis has not specifically endorsed the peace accord, but he saluted the process of bringing peace to Colombia. At least 79 people died and 100 were injured. Over the past 52 years, Colombia's war has left 260,000 dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and 7 million displaced.

The Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said the key message of the trip is "the capacity to forgive: to forgive, and receive forgiveness".

On the way to Colombia, the papal flight through the Caribbean was rerouted slightly southwards, to avoid the category-5 Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic storm on record. Both used their visits to show solidarity with victims of violence, discrimination and poverty and to urge government authorities to fix the structural and societal problems that have made Colombia one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.

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