Colombia (CNS) -- Pope Francis arrived in Colombia Sept. 6 for a five-day visit
to promote reconciliation in a deeply Catholic country scarred and reticent to
offer forgiveness after decades of war.
pope was greeted was welcomed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his
wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez Munera. Children in traditional costumes
presented him with flowers, and the pope greeted members of the Colombian
military, including soldiers injured in the line of duty.
a gesture to promote the themes of peace and reconciliation, he was given a
dove by a boy named Emmanuel, who was born in a guerrilla camp to Colombian
politician Clara Rojas, kidnapped in 2002 and released nearly six years
the 12-hour flight from Rome, Pope Francis told reporters that the trip was "to
help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace."
for Pope Francis' visit are running high among Colombian Catholics. It's the first
papal trip to Colombia since 1986, when St. John Paul II visited.
he arrived after the signing of a peace accord promising to put Colombia on a
path of ending more than 50 years of armed conflict. Just days before the
visit, the National Liberation Army, a Marxist organization carrying out crimes
like kidnap and bombings, and the government agreed to a four-month cease-fire.
remain, especially as many Colombians -- including Catholics and those of
conservative persuasions -- object to the idea of demobilized Marxist
guerrillas accused of atrocities receiving reduced punishments and even
participating in politics. Those persecuted by paramilitaries voice similar
are expecting that the pope brings a lot of hope," said Msgr. Hector Fabio
Henao, director of Caritas Colombia. "The pope arrives at a time when
reconciliation is the greatest challenge. We hope that his message touches the
hearts of those who have suffered due to this conflict."
papal trip carries the motto: "Let's take the first step," purposely
chosen to convey a sense of collective involvement in the country's peace
motto of the apostolic trip says exactly what we are expecting: Let's take the
first step," said Auxiliary Bishop Juan Carlos Cardenas Toro of Cali. "This
first step by the pope, stepping off the flight to come closer to this nation,
which has suffered, is something for us that opens the door to hope."
Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its
Spanish acronym as FARC, reached a peace accord in 2016, in which the FARC
agreed to demobilize. The agreement has proved polemic, even though violence
perpetrated by guerrilla groups, government soldiers and paramilitaries has left
an estimated 220,000 dead and millions more displaced.
are divided on the peace accord, and Colombian bishops have stayed on the
sidelines, while encouraging the laity to voice their opinions. Many
conservative Catholics, along with evangelicals, argued the deal included
provisions harmful to the traditional family -- a charge denied by peace accord
proponents; opponents turned out to defeat the deal in a plebiscite.
accord later was reworked and approved in Congress. People say they want peace,
but disagree -- often strongly -- on how to pursue it
church itself reflects the divisions in Colombian society," said Jesuit
Father Mauricio Garcia Duran. "The pope comes to Colombia in a context of
papal visit touches on themes important to the country and church. In the
capital, Bogota, Sept. 7, the pope will celebrate a Mass focused on young
people, expected to attract more than 1 million attendees.
travels Sept. 8 to Villavicencio -- gateway to the at-times neglected southern
half of Colombia -- where he will pray with 6,000 victims of violence and is
expected to call for reconciliation. That call for reconciliation will include
a call to reconcile with creation; included in the audience will be indigenous
peoples from the Amazon and lands increasingly exploited by mining and natural
following day, Pope Francis will address clergy and religious in the city of
Medellin. He also will visit a Catholic orphanage.
Francis ends his visit to Colombia on the Caribbean coast in the city of
Cartagena. There he is expected to address the church's controversial history
of trafficking slaves to the New World.
will also recite the Angelus at a shrine to St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit who worked
to stop slavery.