Inspired by Pope Francis' message during his 2017 visit to the country, the Church in Colombia is preparing to celebrate the first National Day of Reconciliation on May 3.

Auxiliary Bishop Elkin Fernando Álvarez Botero, secretary general of the Colombian Bishops' Conference, explained that the bishops met in November 2017 to more deeply reflect on the message of the Holy Father during his Apostolic Visit to the country that year.

In that meeting, he said, the bishops “wanted to have a day set aside especially dedicated to praying for reconciliation among Colombians.”

The bishops decided that that celebration would coincide with the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which in Colombia is May 3.

During his visit to Villavicencio in September 2017, the Holy Father urged Colombia “to open your heart as the people of God, allow yourself to be reconciled! Colombians, don't be afraid to ask and offer forgiveness. Don't resist reconciliation in order to come together, to re-encounter each other as brothers and sisters and overcome enmities. Now is the time to heal wounds.”

The pope's trip was largely the result of the country's ongoing peace process between the government and Colombia's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

After more than six decades of conflict, a peace deal was finally struck in August 2016, de-escalating a conflict which since 1964 has left some 260,000 people dead and an estimated 7 million displaced.

In preparing for the day of reconciliation, Bishop Álvarez Botero reflected, “Let us be convinced, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that reconciliation with God, with our brothers and sisters, with ourselves and with nature is the path we must take to reach peace.”

He urged Catholics not to grow tired of praying for reconciliation “and peace for our country, because they are a gift that only comes from Jesus Christ, who gave his life on the Cross to heal our wounds and to knock down the wall that separates us, hatred.”

The bishop encouraged people to make “a serious commitment to reconciliation” in order to “eradicate from our personal and communal life all that which divides and separates us, which leads us to violence and death.”

He also urged the people of the country “to cultivate, care for and promote the values that dispose us to live reconciliation.”

Among Colombians, he said, there is “dialogue, sharing, solidarity, understanding, patience and above all, the charity that allows us to reach out to the poorest and neediest with the same love that Christ taught us from the Cross.”

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.