Colombia (CNS) -- Pope Francis urged Colombians to put aside prejudice and
pursue peace through social inclusion, fighting inequality and paying
attention to the plight of the country's most marginalized populations, such as
campesinos, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples.
alongside President Juan Manuel Santos, the pope called on Colombians to
recognize that "real wealth is diversity" and to pursue a "culture
of encounter," in which people are at the center of all political, social
and economic activity. Promoting such a culture would "help us flee from
the temptation of revenge and the satisfaction of short-term partisan
encourage you to look to all those who today are excluded and marginalized by
society, those who have no value in the eyes of the majority, who are held
back, cast aside. Everyone is needed in the work of creating and shaping
society. This is not achieved simply with those of 'pure blood,' but by all,"
the pope told Santos and government officials Sept. 7 outside the Casa de
Narino, Colombia's presidential palace.
"Please ... listen to the poor, to those who suffer," he added. "Look them in
the eye and let yourselves be continually questioned by their faces racked with
pain and by their pleading hands. From them we learn true lessons about life,
humanity and dignity."
speech -- invoking St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit who fought discrimination and the
slave trade in Colombia -- was Pope Francis' first official event on his five-day
visit to the South American country.
Francis arrived in Colombia as the country pursues peace after five decades of
armed conflict. That conflict has claimed 220,000 lives and left millions more
victimized and displaced. Many of those victims came from the poorest strata of
gaze fixes upon the weakest, the oppressed and maltreated, those who have no
voice, either because it has been taken from them, or was never given to them,
or because they are ignored," the pope said, as children sat behind on a
platform in front of the presidential palace columns.
also emphasized the importance of family -- "envisioned by God to be the
fruit of spousal love" -- as a source of social cohesion and "that
place where we learn to live with others despite our difference and to belong
to one another."
government and a Marxist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, reached a peace accord last year. The FARC is demobilizing
and recently formed a political party. Another Marxist group, the National
Liberation Army, is in talks with the government and agreed to a four-month cease-fire
in the days before the pope's arrival.
accord with the FARC has proved polemic; some in Colombia disapprove of FARC
leaders receiving reduced punishments for committing atrocities and fear the
presence of former guerrillas in the country's political process.
Francis has not specifically endorsed the peace accord, but he saluted the process
of bringing peace to Colombia.
the past year, significant progress has been made. The steps taken give rise to
hope, in the conviction that seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a task
which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone," Pope
Francis said. "It is an endeavor challenging us not to weaken our efforts
to build the unity of the nation."
who has promoted the peace accord in the face of stiff opposition, called the
pope's visit a "push" to take the first steps toward peace and
no use silencing our weapons if we continue armed in our hearts," the
president said. "It's no use ending a war if we still pursue each other as
enemies. That's why were need to reconcile.
trust your visit will open the hearts and minds of Colombians to the peace that
comes from God and inhabits the souls of men. This is the peace we are constructing,"
he told the pope.
Francis ended by telling the country, "you have a great and noble mission,
which is also a difficult task," then quoting Colombian author Gabriel Garcia
Marquez: "In spite of this, before oppression, plundering and abandonment,
we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor
even the unending wars down the centuries, have been able to subdue the
tenacious advantage of life over death. An advantage which is both increasing