Bogotá, Colombia, Oct 4, 2016 / 03:39 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After Colombian voters narrowly rejected a peace deal with the FARC rebels on Sunday, the Archbishop of Tunja encouraged the nation's faithful to “continue to pray and work” for peace, since “before all else, it is a gift, a grace of God.”
A peace agreement was signed Sept. 26 to end the 52-year conflict between the Colombian government and the Marxist rebel group, but was submitted to a referendum Oct. 2 to be ratified. In that plebiscite, 50.2 percent of voters rejected the peace deal. Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, who is president of the Colombian bishop' conference, told CNA that “as the Church, it is our part to continue to invite all Colombians to pray for peace, because peace before all else is a gift, a grace of God and also our task. So we must continue praying and working.”
He added that the Church in Colombia invited “all Colombians to vote, and to vote conscientiously, reflecting, trying to understand what you were doing. Naturally, we did not insinuate how one should vote.” “Anyway, I believe that this leads us, first of all, to have to make a very serious commitment to not stop working for peace; that must be our goal, a goal pursued with great insistence,” Archbishop Castro stated.
The archbishop emphasized that both Timoleón Jiménez, the leader of FARC, and president Juan Manuel Santos spoke in favor of continuing the peace process, and said it is important to work for “political reconciliation, and on the other hand for personal reconciliation.”
Archbishop Castro also urged Colombians to not categorize “as good and bad ” those who voted for or against the peace accord, since “many voted 'No' not because they don't want peace, but because they want a better, more structured peace, where not so much is given away to the guerrillas.”
“For now I believe that, despite everything, all Colombians need to be reconciled.” Dialogue is needed following the referendum, the archbishop said: “A calm dialogue, a positive dialogue of all the forces facing each other.” “Something very good can come out of dialogue, such as a series of contributions to reform the peace accord and to work on it again for the peace process,” Archbishop Castro reflected.
He emphasized that “in no way” can the hope for peace be lost, since “all Colombians want peace.” Archbishop Castro underscored that “the problem is not whether people want peace or not. We all want peace here in Colombia, but some think that a much better accord can be made than the one that was, and so they voted 'No.'”
He also urged the government to “develop a new pedagogy,” explaining the complex terms of the peace accord to voters in a simpler way.
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogotá tweeted shortly after the referendum that “We are in the hands of the Lord. He is the lord of history, but everyone must assume his own responsibility in the task of building peace.”
The peace accord was reached after four years of negotiations in Cuba. The deal was to have incorporated some of FARC's leadership into the government in exchange for their disarmament and renunciation of kidnapping and drug trafficking. Many Colombians who voted against ratification charged that it was too lenient on the FARC; those members who confessed to crime were to have been given more lenient sentences, and not face time in conventional jails. Those who voted no on ratifying the deal want to renegotiate the agreement, with fewer concessions made to the FARC.
Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Colombia's civil war. The conflict has engendered right wing paramilitaries aligned with the government, as well as secondary rebel groups such as the National Liberation Army.
Pope Francis had expressed approval of the peace deal when it was agreed to in August, and his Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, attended the Sept. 26 signing in Cartagena. Santos has said he accepts the result of the referendum, but will continue to work toward peace with the FARC. And the rebel leader, who is known as Timochenko, has said his guerrilla movement “maintains its will for peace and reiterates its disposition to use only words as the weapon to build toward the future.”
The existing ceasefire is expected to remain in place. Fewer than 38 percent of voters participated in the referendum, and the result was divided regionally: voters in outlying provinces were in favor of the peace agreement, while those more inland tended to oppose it.