Vatican announces that Pope Francis will visit Colombia in September
The Vatican announced this week that “Accepting the invitation of the President of the Republic and the Colombian bishops, His Holiness the Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Trip to Colombia from 6 to 11 September 2017.” Pope Francis will make a six-day trip to four cities – Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena. This trip will be the third time Francis has visited his native South America since becoming Pope. He first traveled to Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day and went on a second tour in July 2015, with stops in Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay.
The Pope’s visit will take place almost a year after the government and the country’s largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC ) signed a major peace agreement in August 2016.
When the deal was initially reached, the Pope praised the move, voicing his support “for the goal of attaining the peace and reconciliation of the entire Colombian people, in light of human rights and Christian values, which are at the heart of Latin American culture.” Since 1964, up to 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war.
However, the initial agreement was narrowly rejected in a 2 Oct referendum as many Colombians felt that it was too lenient on FARC, particularly when it came to kidnapping and drug trafficking. A revised agreement was signed on 24Nov. 24, and sent to Colombia’s Congress for approval rather than being submitted to a popular vote. It was swiftly approved with some amendments including the demand that a 10 year time limit for the transitional justice system and demands that FARC hand over assets to be used for reparations and provide information about their drug trafficking. Pope Francis had encouraged Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and former president Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez to continue working for peace when they met last December.
Bishop Fabio Suescún Mutis, head of Colombia’s military diocese will be in charge of the preparation committee for the trip. The yellow and white logo of the proposed trip depicts Pope Francis walking next to the thematic phrase “Demos el primer paso,” meaning “Let us take the first step.” The Colombian Bishops Conference website said the Pope’s visit “is a moment of grace and joy to dream with the possibility of transforming our country and taking the first step.”
Bishop Suescún said “The Holy Father is a missionary for reconciliation. His presence helps us to discover that yes, it’s possible to re-unite as a nation in order to learn to look at ourselves again with eyes of hope and mercy.” To take the first step, Suescún said, means “to again draw near to Jesus, to meet again the love of our families, to disarm words with our neighbor and to have compassion with those who have suffered.”
On receiving the official confirmation of the Pope’s visit, President Santos expressed his joy saying “we will receive (Francis) with open arms and hearts, as a messenger of peace and reconciliation.”
He observed that the Pope will only be visiting Colombia, whereas international papal trips normally include several countries. Santos said that Pope Francis “gave courage and impelled” the peace process in the country on several occasions, adding that “he is a messenger of love and faith; he’s a forger of bridges and not walls.”
The President declared “To have the Pope with us for four days, to know that he’s traveling exclusively to give a voice of encouragement and faith to Colombians, is a privilege that fills us with gratitude.”
Frncis’ visit, he said, is an “encounter with the teachings of Jesus, the encounter among ourselves, as a society, as compatriots, as human beings and as children of God.” Santos expressed his hope that the visit would help Colombians to unite around the “building of a more just and equitable country, with peace and more solidarity.”
“We have already begun to prepare and will continue to prepare so that this apostolic journey of Pope Francis in Colombia will bear the greatest of fruits of harmony and unity in our country.”