On 'sacred ground' of suffering, pope prays for reconciliation

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

Colombia (CNS) — In a raw, honest prayer service where victims and
perpetrators of violence stood under the gaze of a bomb-damaged crucifix, Pope
Francis urged Colombians to summon the courage to make peace.

presiding over the event Sept. 8 was what remained of a crucifix from the
church in Bojaya, an image of Jesus whose arms and legs were blown off in 2002
when an improvised homemade mortar launched by rebels crashed through the roof
of a church and exploded.

United Nations was unable to verify the exact number of people killed; some
reports say 79 people died, others say 119 people died. All agree that almost
half the victims were children.

am standing on sacred ground,” Pope Francis said at the prayer service,
“a land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the
heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends.”

2016, leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly called
FARC, apologized for the massacre in the Bojaya church. The rebels had been
engaged in a firefight with members of a paramilitary group; the church, where
frightened civilians were hiding, was between their positions.

Palacios Asprilla was next door to the church, in the house belonging to the
Missionary Sisters of St. Augustine. The house also was hit.

all in white, like many of the thousands of victims who gathered for the prayer
service with the pope, Palacios said, “You have to take it seriously
because the (FARC) apology began a process.” Besides, he said, the group
admitted it was a horrible error “and they promised to change.”

to reporters before the event, he said Pope Francis’ presence in Villavicencio
“is a sign of his solidarity with Colombians who suffer.”

is a very Catholic country, and he can motivate those who are uncertain”
about supporting the peace process. Just over half the population voted against
a peace referendum in 2016, mostly because they believed the government was
letting the rebels and militias off too easily.

at the service to the bombing that tore the arms and legs from the Christ of
Bojaya, Pope Francis said, “They have torn away your children who sought
refuge in you.”

he did not stop there. He prayed that Christ would help “us to commit
ourselves to restoring your body.”

we be your feet that go forth to encounter our brothers and sisters in need;
your arms to embrace those who have lost their dignity; your hands to bless and
console those who weep alone,” Pope Francis prayed.

broken and without limbs is for us ‘even more Christ,'” the pope said,
“because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and
with his people.”

people gave their testimony at the encounter: Deisy Sanchez Rey, who fought in
a paramilitary group for three years before she was arrested and imprisoned for
two years; Juan Carlos Murcia Perdomo, a FARC fighter for 12 years; Pastora
Mira Garcia, whose two small children were killed by the paramilitary militias;
and Luz Dary Landazury, who was wounded in 2012 by a bomb blast.

Francis responded directly to each of them, paying tribute to their honesty,
their pain and their efforts to start a new life by forgiving and asking

can be difficult to believe that change is possible for those who appealed to a
ruthless violence in order to promote their own agenda, protect their illegal
affairs so they could gain wealth, or claim — dishonestly — that they were
defending the lives of their brothers and sisters,” the pope said.

truth, forgiveness and reconciliation are the only ways to break the cycle of
violence that caused so much suffering, he said. “Fear neither the truth
nor justice.”

route back to the airport, Pope Francis was to visit the Cross of
Reconciliation at Los Fundadores Park. The cross was carried in a Via Crucis
service throughout the region in 2012 before being placed in the park. The
plaque lists the number of local people kidnapped, murdered or who died from
injuries caused by landmines from 1964 to 2016.

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Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.


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