Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017|2:43 p.m.
BOGOTA, Colombia– Pope Francis flew in to Colombia on Wednesday to attempt to assist heal the wounds of Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict, reinforced by a new cease-fire with a holdout rebel group however totally knowledgeable about the fragility of the country’s peace procedure.
During his deeply symbolic five-day check out, Francis is anticipated to push Colombian leaders to address the social and financial disparities that fueled 5 decades of armed disobedience, while motivating regular Colombians to balance their need for justice with forgiveness.
In a video message on the eve of his departure, Francis advised all Colombians to take a “initial step” and connect to one another for the sake of peace and the future.
“Peace is exactly what Colombia has actually been looking for and working for such a long period of time,” he said. “A steady and long lasting peace, so that we can see one another and treat one another as brothers, not as enemies.”
Getting to Bogota’s military air base on a flight from Rome, Francis was being welcomed by President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia’s national symphonic orchestra playing classics by Vivaldi and Beethoven as well as traditional cumbia music.
A year after the Colombian federal government signed the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country remains bitterly divided over the regards to the offer even as guerrillas have actually laid down their arms and begun returning to civilian life. Even the Catholic Church hierarchy, which was instrumental in helping with the peace talks and is now leading the procedure of reconciliation, was divided over what numerous Colombians viewed as the excessively generous terms provided to rebels behind atrocities.
Former President Alvaro Uribe, a strong opponent of the peace offer, wrote a letter to the pope Tuesday expressing concern that the deal with the rebels had actually fueled a rise in drug trafficking and created economic uncertainties with the prospective to ruin Colombia’s social material.
Meanwhile, the nation’s top drug fugitive, the target of a $5 million manhunt by U.S. authorities, appealed to the Pope to pray that he and his fellow combatants be enabled to set their weapons as part of the peace process– a proposal the Colombian federal government has actually rejected out of hand.
“I’m convinced that the only escape of the conflict is discussion,” stated Dairo Usuga, appearing publicly for the very first time, in a video published on social media. “The Catholic Church is an ethical recommendation and we believe that with its prayers we can move forward in our objective of deserting our weapons.”
The airplane flying Pope Francis to Colombia left Rome Wednesday morning and had to alter its flight course to avoid Classification 5 Cyclone Irma. A half-hour into the flight, he informed journalists he wanted to “help Colombia in its course of peace.”
He also requested prayers for Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela, whose issues are most likely to demand some of his attention, hoping it finds “a great stability and dialogue with everybody.” The Vatican in 2015 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 constructs on the embattled socialist to yield power.
In Bogota, city employees were busy scrubbing downtown monuments, erecting the phase for a giant outdoor Mass and putting the last touches on a security boundary surrounding the Nunciature where the pope will sleep every night. While many Colombians hail the pope’s humility as a model to imitate, they have questioned the large cost of the check out.
“It’s excellent what’s happening, the pope is a modest person,” Aristobulo Fonseca stated as he hung 2 images of Catholic saints from the rearview mirror of his taxi. “Exactly what’s not good is how they’re making a carnival of this check out and spending so much cash.”
The emphasize of Francis’ trip comes Friday, with a meeting and prayer of reconciliation in between victims of the conflict and previous guerrillas in Villavicencio, a city south of Bogota surrounded by area long held by the FARC.
The event will be packed with significance.
Francis will beatify two Colombian priests eliminated throughout decades of guerrilla warfare, stating them martyrs who were killed from hatred for the Catholic faith.
And the conference will be framed by one of the most poignant symbols of the dispute: the mutilated Christ statue that was saved from a church in the western town of Bojaya after a FARC mortar attack in 2012. Some 300 individuals were sheltering in the church when it was struck throughout a three-way firefight between FARC rebels, conservative militias and the army. A minimum of 79 individuals passed away and 100 were injured.
In overall, the conflict left more than 250,000 people dead, 60,000 missing and millions more displaced.
Ahead of Francis’ arrival, the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the last staying major rebel group, the National Freedom Army, or ELN, signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement, a considerable action towards working out a long-term peace deal.
The Vatican No. 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, stated the key message of the trip is “the capability to forgive: to forgive, and get forgiveness.”
Francis is the third pope to go to Colombia, following Pope Paul VI in 1968 and St. John Paul II in 1986. Both used their sees to reveal uniformity with victims of violence, discrimination and hardship and to prompt government authorities to fix the structural and societal problems that have actually made Colombia one of the most unequal nations in Latin America.
Monsignor Octavio Ruiz Arenas, the first archbishop of Villavicencio and now a Vatican official, stated a key point that Francis will press is for Colombia to avoid duplicating the mistakes of peace processes in Central America, where demobilized guerrilla fighters did not re-integrate into society and instead signed up with criminal gangs. Colombia’s well-entrenched drug traffickers will be a strong draw for rebels who have not known anything aside from jungle warfare for decades, he said.
“When Paul VI went, he spoke about all these issues, however regrettably all they discuss now are his pretty speeches,” Ruiz said. “The same thing happened with John Paul II.”
“However if the authorities aren’t able to say, ‘The pope is right; we need to alter’– if there’s no goodwill on the part of everyone– the words will just remain like a good memory,” he said.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield reported this story from Rome and AP author Joshua Goodman reported in Bogota. AP writer Juan Zamorano in Bogota contributed to this report.