Pope Francis is headed to Colombia this summer, and one of the nation’s leading bishops believes the visit will be a chance for progress for many countries in the region.
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota said the pope’s message will be relevant for all Latin American countries. The visit is “truly going to help all of us create stronger bonds between the different countries and also to be able to work toward common solutions,” he said.
“I think the Holy Father is aware that Colombia has a certain emblematic character in Latin America, because perhaps it is the best sample of the problems we suffer from on the continent,” said the cardinal, who is also president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).
He was speaking to reporters after the CELAM president met with ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.
The cardinal discussed a few details of Pope Francis’s Sept. 6-11 trip to Colombia, saying the pontiff is aware of the problems facing Colombia and Latin America.
Salazar named poverty as a problem. He also noted the “cancer of corruption,” which Pope Francis has described as “a cancer that has metastasized everywhere, that has infiltrated all areas of society.”
Violence is another scourge on the continent, the cardinal said, calling the papal visit “a balm of hope and consolation.”
“The Holy Father is going to give us courage, make us realize that if we really want to resolve our problems in depth, we have to start with a change of heart,” he said.
Salazar told CNA that Colombians “are preparing ourselves well” to receive the pope.
“Not only because for the people the Pope’s visit is extremely important, but also because we are doing everything possible to prepare ourselves spiritually,” he added.
“There is going to be a very strong evangelization effort on all levels,” he said. “Meetings, forums, catechesis, and preaching are being prepared so the people will be truly prepared, so the Pope’s message falls on good ground and, therefore, produces fruit. We are doing all this and we are very hopeful.”
He also explained some points on the program for the trip.
“The Mass to be celebrated in Bogota will have a special emphasis on respect for, care for and the promotion of life,” Salazar said. “There will also be special priority for the disabled, the sick and the elderly to attend.
“In Villavicencio,” he continued, “the emphasis will be ecological: the whole Amazon region’s problems, and (the need for) respect for the Earth, but also respect for indigenous cultures, ethnic minorities.”
He also discussed the peace process with FARC rebels and other guerrillas, acknowledging that “the situation is not easy, but despite the difficulties there have been, it’s going gradually moving forward.”
“I hope that what we have achieved so far not only won’t be destroyed, but that we can move forward to the point of achieving complete peace,” he said. “There is genuine hope. We’re sure that despite the difficulties, peace will prevail.”
He recognized concern that Colombia is polarized on the “very complex issue” isssue.
“The political polarization that we are experiencing which every day seems to be getting stronger, deeper, more difficult. We hope the Pope works those miracles that politically are not easy to do,” said Salazar.