ROSARIO, Argentina — Catholic bishops in Colombia are urging the people to remember that all human life must be protected “categorically,” and calling for the rejection all forms of violence, “whatever its origin.”

“We proclaim that human life is sacred and inviolable, that it constitutes the first and most fundamental of rights, and that, therefore, every murder is a very serious crime, not only against people but also against society,” they wrote in a statement released Aug. 19.

The appeal comes in light of two massacres that took place on August 11 and 15, that left at least 13 young people dead. The attacks happened in areas controlled by criminal gangs and leftist rebels, who are often involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping for ransom.

“We pray to God for the victims and express our closeness and solidarity to their families, to the inhabitants of the cities where these crimes occurred and to the ecclesial communities of the Archdiocese of Cali and the Diocese of Ipiales,” the bishops wrote.

For the Church, these events add to other recent acts of violence in the country, including threats to people and communities, the assassinations of social leaders and ex-rebels, and turf wars between drug gangs.

In their letter, the leadership of the Colombian bishops conference categorically rejected all forms of violence.

“We echo once again the call of Pope Francis, exhorting illegal armed groups and criminal gangs to definitively cease their violent actions and confrontations, which aggravate the humanitarian crisis that is being experienced in the country due to the pandemic,” they wrote.

They also highlight the “suffering, the misery, the lack of opportunities and the violation of their fundamental rights of which the populations most affected by the upsurge in violence are victims.”

“This is about our brothers, who we cannot forget and towards whom we must direct our solidarity.”

They didn’t shy away from challenging the government of Ivan Duque Marquez, urging the political leader to join efforts to ensure effective protection and comprehensive care for the communities that suffer most from the consequences of violence, as well as to continue advancing in the implementation of the 2016 peace accords with the FARC, the main communist rebel group.

Under the peace agreement, thousands of FARC members gave up their arms in exchange for the Colombian government’s commitment to protect them and to build infrastructure in poor, isolated communities in the countryside.

In 2018, Colombians elected Iván Duque as president. He campaigned on a promise to revise the controversial peace deal, arguing that it had been too lenient for rebels who had killed and kidnapped Colombian citizens and committed other atrocities.

On Monday, Archbishop Luis Jose Rueda Aparicio released his own statement, saying that the “horror of war” is still present in different Colombian regions, and that it continues to “trample on human life.”

“We can be with a ‘face mask,’ but we cannot remain silent when facing the growing violence that is raging against our peoples, like a destructive monster that grows in our country,” he wrote.

The archbishop of Bogota also expressed his outrage at what he described as a “pandemic” of violence, with social leaders and advocates for human rights and the peace process getting killed.

“We cannot be silent before groups that torture peasants, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, men and women,” Rueda Aparicio wrote. “We cannot remain silent in the face of threats and murders of those reincorporated [into society] in the peace process, we cannot remain silent when macabre forces try to destroy the hope of Colombians with blood and fire.”

“We cannot wait any longer. In the midst of the [COVID-19] pandemic, we call for a ceasefire, we appeal for all to fight together against drug trafficking, we call for social, political, economic and ecological reconciliation,” he wrote.

Addressing the country’s leaders “in all settings and from all aspects,” he calls on them to work together “to implement a culture of truthful, responsible and fraternal dialogue”.

Finally, Rueda Aparicio urges the Colombian society to work together in building a “citizen pact” that favors peace, life and reconciliation, overcoming the “reciprocal fear that forces us to see ourselves as enemies.”

“Let us not lock ourselves in eternal sterile polemics while the poorest in our regions and on the peripheries of our cities are left to total indifference, to death as news that arrives and simply passes,” he concluded.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma