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ROME – When Colombian President-elect Gustavo Petro takes office Aug. 7, he will look to the Catholic Church to play a key role in helping him to fulfill a primary goal: negotiating a peace deal with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla movement, which has been terrorizing the country since the 1960s.
Several governments have tried and failed to dialogue with this insurgency, despite successful peace accords forged between President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC–EP), ratified by Congress in 2016.
Petro is convinced that this peace negotiation is necessary for the country to finally leave behind a civil conflict that has been going on for the past five decades, leaving thousands of dead, millions displaced, and inestimable losses in damages – all exacerbated by organized crime.
In order to succeed where others have failed, the president-elect will need the help of the country’s priests and bishops. The Catholic hierarchy, ready to see this bloody conflict in the rear window, is willing to lend a hand.
The Bishops’ Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM) is organizing a seminar along with several social organizations to spotlight the urgent need for disarmament throughout the region. Various actors are coming together to participate in this “Alliance for Disarmament,” which seeks to promote in the country, and throughout the Americas, systemic action to ensure peace and non-violence.
Petro is expected to take part in the July 26 event, as “a sign of his commitment to work on the construction of peace.” It will be held at the headquarters of the University of Santo Tomas in Bogota.
The seminar will examine disarmament in Latin America and the Caribbean, concerns about public policies, budgets, trends in the regional and global context in terms of militarism, corruption, violation of human rights, fragility of the justice system, guerrillas, mercenaries, and paramilitaries.
According to organizers, their hope is that those in attendance will be able to “listen to the signs of global hope: the position of Pope Francis, the initiatives from the faith for active nonviolence, including theological reflections that encourage the work for disarmament, the global mobilization against war and the action of churches and faith organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean in favor of disarmament.”
The Catholic Church in Colombia has long been advocating for truth and reconciliation, and this issue was the core of the homily delivered by Archbishop Luis José Rueda Aparicio of Bogota, president of the bishops’ conference.
He said the true reconciliation that Colombia needs is based on “love for enemies, active non-violence, responding to war with forgiveness, in opening our hearts to reconcile, in practicing mercy with joy, in persevering walking along the paths of respect for life, of justice, of all life, life from the womb to the life of the elderly terminally ill.” He spoke on July 20, during the Mass for the 212th anniversary of the country’s independence.
“First, we are called to persevere in all our things, praying for Colombia. Let fathers and mothers make their homes schools of prayer, small churches of love in prayer, let us not tire of praying, prayer is powerful,” he said.
Also, he continued, “active patience is needed to take on the suffering of each day, without aggressiveness, without pessimism, all families and all societies in the world have problems, let us seek that fraternity flourish in our fields and cities, encounter and dialogue, may fraternal love flourish, which is braver and more powerful than war itself.”
He urged the entire country not to forget God, arguing that when God is out of the picture, a country “goes to ruin, it destroys itself. To seek God is to seek hope.”
Beyond the usual reasons any prelate might have when promoting peace and reconciliation in a country, in the case of Colombia there is the added element of the many lay and religious missionaries, priests and bishops, who lost their lives to the conflict, working silently while accompanying the most vulnerable.
“In all the regions of our national geography,” the archbishop concluded, “there are seeds of the kingdom sown for decades, for a long time, in silence, persevering and with faith in the silent work of evangelization. Thinking of Colombia today, we want to thank the generous dedication of the lives of a large number of laity, families, religious, deacons, priests and bishops who, with their service, have even reached martyrdom for the kingdom of God.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma