Be the first to take a step for peace, pope says at Mass with victims

By Cindy Wooden

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (CNS) — If just one victim of
Colombia’s civil war forgives his or her aggressor, it can set off a chain
reaction of hope for reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass Sept. 8 in Villavicencio, a city filled
with those who fled their homes during the war and with former fighters trying
to start over, Pope Francis pleaded for honesty and courage.

At the beginning of the Mass, he held up two heroic examples
of those who gave their lives to “rise up out of the swamp of violence and
bitterness”: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was
murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria
Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948.

Pope Francis beatified the two at the Mass, which was
celebrated in the middle of a broad field, typical of the area’s cattle
ranching terrain.

In his homily, the pope acknowledged that, during 52 years of war, many at the Mass suffered horrors.

“How many of you can tell of exiles and grief,” he

The Christian call to reconciliation is not something
abstract, the pope said. “If it were, then it would only bring sterility
and greater distance.” It requires acknowledging the truth and letting
victims speak.

And “when victims overcome the understandable temptation
to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of
building peace,” he said. “What is needed is for some to courageously
take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so. We
need only one good person to have hope. And each of us can be that person.

“This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and
conflicts. This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices,”
Pope Francis insisted. Reconciliation must be accompanied by a firm commitment
to change the inequalities and behaviors that fueled the war for decades.

Celebrating Mass in an area known as the gateway to the
Amazon, the pope said he could not ignore the need for reconciliation with the
natural environment.

“It is not by chance that even on nature we have
unleashed our desire to possess and subjugate,” he said. To the delight of
many in the crowd, he quoted the famous Colombian singer and peace activist,
Juanes: “The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of
violence. The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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