Pope Francis had promised to visit Colombia once a peace accord was in place, but his visit this week is less about congratulations than it is about consolidation. “He comes to take the first step with us,” said the bishops of Colombia in a document designed to prepare people for the papal visit.
In St John’s Gospel, the Apostle Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb after the Resurrection, the bishops wrote. In a similar way, St Peter’s successor, Pope Francis, is visiting Colombia, which they described as “a terrible tomb” that “has been crushed with armed conflict, drug trafficking, insecurity and inequality”.
Looking at Francis’s previous visits to places trying to overcome civil strife, violence and division – the Holy Land, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Central African Republic – it is clear that the Pope recognises that making and keeping peace require courage and sacrifice.
The people of Colombia are right to celebrate the 2016 peace accord which came after suffering 52 years of civil war. Pope Francis will praise that accomplishment, but he will also urge them to “take the first step” towards reconciliation.
It won’t be easy. Even if a truce can be signed with the remaining small group of rebels, the country faces a host of complicated processes for reintegrating former combatants into society and compensating victims of the conflict.
The first step has to be to let go of festering anger and resentment, the Pope has said. But he knows that is not simple.
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