Vatican City, Mar 10, 2017 / 08:21 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican announced Friday that Pope Francis will make a six-day trip to Colombia in September with four cities on his itinerary, almost a year after the government and FARC rebels signed a major peace agreement.
“Accepting the invitation of the President of the Republic and the Colombian bishops, His Holiness the Pope Francis will make an Apostolic Trip to Colombia from 6 to 11 September 2017,” a March 10 communique from the Vatican read. While the official schedule is expected to be released shortly, the Vatican confirmed that Francis will visit the cities of Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena.
The trip will mark the third time Francis has visited his native South America since becoming Pope, with the first taking place in July 2013 when he traveled to Rio de Janiero for World Youth Day. The second tour took place in July 2015, with stops in Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay.
In August 2016 a peace accord between the Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was finally reached following four years of negotiations in Cuba. Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war. According to Human Rights Watch, with more than 6.8 million people forcibly displaced due to the conflict, Colombia has the world's second largest population of internally displaced people, with Syria in first place.
However, the August agreement was narrowly rejected in a referendum Oct. 2, with many Colombians claiming that it was too lenient on FARC, particularly when it came to kidnapping and drug trafficking. A revised agreement was signed Nov. 24, and sent to Colombia’s Congress for approval, rather than being submitted to a popular vote. The reformed accord was approved Nov. 30, with revised features including the demand that FARC hand over assets to be used for reparations, a 10 year time limit for the transitional justice system, and FARC rebels' providing information about their drug trafficking.
In December Pope Francis met with Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and former president Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, at the Vatican, encouraging them to continue working for peace. When the deal was initially reached, the Pope praised the move, voicing his support “for the goal of attaining the peace and reconciliation of the entire Colombian people, in light of human rights and Christian values, which are at the heart of Latin American culture.”