Witness of Colombian people a wealth for the church, pope says

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Colombia’s long and arduous path
toward reconciliation and a lasting peace after nearly half a century of war is
a sign of hope for all Christians, Pope Francis said.

Speaking to pilgrims Sept. 13 at his weekly general
audience, the pope said the motto of his visit Sept. 6-10 — “Demos el primer
paso” (“Let’s take the first step”) — referred to the process of
reconciliation that, while difficult, is “underway with the help of

“With my visit, I wanted to bless the efforts of that
people, confirm them in faith and hope and receive their witness, which is a wealth for
my ministry and for the whole church,” the pope said.

Although still sporting a black eye after a minor accident
during his stay in
Cartagena, the pope was in good spirits, greeting pilgrims and kissing
babies around St. Peter’s Square.

Among those present at the audience was former British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, who briefly greeted Pope Francis at the end of the general

Recalling Colombia’s tragic 52-year armed conflict, which was responsible for the
deaths of more than 220,000 people, the pope said that while the country was
torn apart, its strong Christian roots “constituted a guarantee of peace,
the solid foundation of its reconstruction and the lifeblood of its invincible

“It is evident that the evil one wanted to divide the
people to destroy God’s work, but it is equally evident that the love of
Christ, his infinite mercy is stronger than sin and death,” he said.

Departing from his prepared remarks, Pope Francis recalled
how mothers and fathers lining up along the popemobile’s route would hold up their children to
receive a blessing.

“I thought to myself that a people capable of making
children and capable of letting them be seen with pride and hope, this people
has a future,” the pope said.

The second day of the trip, which included the beatification
of two Colombian martyrs and an evening prayer service in Villavicencio dedicated to
reconciliation, was “the culminating moment of the entire visit,” the
pope said.

The Sept. 8 prayer service featured a crucifix from
a church in Bojaya, an image of Jesus without arms or legs after an improvised
homemade mortar launched by rebels crashed through the roof of a church and
exploded in 2002.

The Christ of Bojaya, the pope said, was “mutilated
like his people.”

The beatification of 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, served as a reminder that peace is also founded on the blood of the
martyrs who are witnesses love, truth, justice and faith.

“To listen to their biographies was emotionally
tearful: tears of both pain and joy,” the pope said. “In front of
their relics and their faces, the holy people of God have felt strongly their
own identity; with pain, thinking of many, too many victims, and with joy for
the God’s mercy which stretches forth upon those who fear him.”

Saints like St. Peter Claver and St. Mary Bernard Butler, who ministered in Colombia,
he added, are also examples for Christians in protecting the rights and dignity of all men
and women.

Both saints, he said, “gave their life for the poorest
and the marginalized and thus they showed the true path of revolution —
evangelical not ideological — that truly frees people and societies from
yesterday’s and, unfortunately, today’s slavery.”

The encounter of mercy and truth as well as justice and
peace prophesied in the Psalms,
Pope Francis said, were fulfilled in Colombia’s “wounded people,”
allowing them to “rise up again and walk in a new life.”

“These prophetic words — full of grace — we saw
incarnate in the stories of witnesses who spoke in the name of many and of many
who, through their wounds, with the grace of Christ were able to come out of
themselves and opened themselves to the encounter, to forgiveness and
reconciliation,” the pope said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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