VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Quoting celebrated Colombian author
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pope Francis told the country's bishops he knows
"it is easier to begin a war than to end one" and that, to succeed,
Colombia needs bishops who are pastors, not politicians.
"All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of
moral courage," the pope told the bishops Sept. 7. "War follows the
basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves."
Welcoming Pope Francis to the meeting, Cardinal Ruben
Salazar Gomez of Bogota told the pope, "Our homeland is struggling to put
behind it a history of violence that has plunged it into death for
decades," but the process of building peace "has become a source of
political polarization that every day sows division, confrontation and
disorientation. We are a country marked by deep inequalities and inequities
that demand radical changes in all fields of social life. But it does not seem
we are willing to pay the price required."
One temptation, the pope said, is for the bishops and
priests to get involved in the country's heated partisan political debate.
Resist, the pope told them. The country needs pastors. It
needs ministers who know firsthand "how marred is the face of this
country," how deep are the wounds and how intensely it needs to experience
healing and forgiveness.
"Colombia has need of you so that it can show its true
face, filled with hope despite its imperfections," he said. It needs the
church's help "so that it can engage in mutual forgiveness despite wounds
not yet completely healed, so that it can believe that another path can be
taken, even when force of habit causes the same mistakes to be constantly
Finding a magic formula to fix problems is a temptation, Pope
Francis said. But the church's ministers "are not mechanics or
politicians, but pastors."
The church does not need special favors from politicians, he
said. It only needs the freedom to speak and to minister.
But it also needs internal unity, the pope told the bishops.
"So continue to seek communion among yourselves. Never tire of building it
through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the
Although he said he had "no recipes" and would not
"leave you a list of things to do," Pope Francis made two specific
requests of the bishops: Pay more attention to "the Afro-Colombian roots
of your people," and show more concern for the church, the people and the
environment in southern Colombia's Amazon region.
The region holds "an essential part of the remarkable
biodiversity of this country," and protecting it is "a decisive test
of whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is
capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it
In a speech that included several references to the duty to
defend human life, Pope Francis said he wondered if society could learn from
the indigenous people of the Amazon "the sacredness of life, respect for
nature and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring
fulfillment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions."
"I am told that in some native Amazon languages the
idea of 'friend' is translated by the words, 'my other arm.' May you be the other
arm of the Amazon," he said. "Colombia cannot amputate that arm
without disfiguring its face and its soul."