Pope heads to for­mer Colom­bia war zone to preach for­give­ness

Truro Daily News - - WORLD -

Pope Fran­cis trav­elled Fri­day to an area once be­sieged by leftist rebels to pray with vic­tims of Colom­bia’s long con­flict and urge them to over­come their grief by for­giv­ing their for­mer as­sailants.

The high­light of his visit to the cen­tral city of Villav­i­cen­cio is what the Vat­i­can has termed a “great prayer meet­ing for na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.” It’s bound to be a deeply emo­tional gath­er­ing for Fran­cis, who has made rec­on­cil­i­a­tion the cen­tral theme of his five-day visit to Colom­bia after promis­ing to visit the coun­try upon the sign­ing of last year’s peace deal with the Revo­lu­tion­ary Armed Forces of Colom­bia.

The event will be at­tended by thou­sands of vic­tims from all walks of life: sol­diers who lost limbs clear­ing land mines, moth­ers whose chil­dren were forcibly re­cruited by the rebels never to be seen again and farm­ers driven off their land by right-wing para­mil­i­tary groups.

For­mer rebels are also ex­pected to at­tend but the Vat­i­can and Colom­bian or­ga­niz­ers have given no in­di­ca­tion whether the FARC lead­er­ship will be there, or even meet with the pope dur­ing his visit, re­flect­ing the fresh­ness of the con­flict’s wounds and the sen­si­tiv­i­ties stirred by any pub­lic ap­pear­ance of for­mer guer­ril­las still de­spised by wide swathes of the pop­u­la­tion.

Ahead of the event, the for­mer com­man­der of the FARC pub­lished a pub­lic let­ter in which he asked Pope Fran­cis for for­give­ness.

“Your fre­quent re­minders about the in­fi­nite mercy of God move me to beg for your for­give­ness for any tear or pain we’ve caused Colom­bian so­ci­ety or any of its in­di­vid­u­als,” wrote Ro­drigo Lon­dono, bet­ter known by his nom de guerre Ti­mochenko.

The long­time rebel com­man­der, who is un­der­go­ing med­i­cal treat­ment in Cuba fol­low­ing a stroke, said he re­grets that he is un­able to be present for Fran­cis’ visit. Declar­ing him­self a “de­vout ad­mirer” of the first Latin Amer­i­can pope, he praised his in­sis­tence on the dig­nity of ev­ery hu­man be­ing and out­spo­ken crit­i­cism of an eco­nomic sys­tem in which rich na­tions loot the riches of poorer ones.

In an­other sign that the pope’s mes­sage of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion may be get­ting through to the deeply po­lar­ized na­tion, the mayor of Medellin con­firmed that Pres­i­dent Juan Manuel San­tos will pray to­gether today at a Mass in Colom­bia’s sec­ond-largest city with his pre­de­ces­sor and arch-ri­val, Pres­i­dent Al­varo Uribe. Pre­vi­ously the two had re­fused to ap­pear to­gether at any pa­pal events.


Women kneel dur­ing Mass cel­e­brated by Pope Fran­cis in Villav­i­cen­cio, Colom­bia.

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