Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the South American country of Colombia Sept. 6-11 isn't a political statement a Vatican official said, but about the renewal of the Catholic faith of Colombians in order that violence may be combatted at its root. "But I say immediately, to see the Pope's visit as centering on the process of the peace accords is a mistake," said Guzmán Carriquiry, vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
He told journalists Friday that the Church in Colombia “has to face an enormous challenge to be a point of fundamental reference for not only the revolution of Christianity in the Colombian people, but for the rebirth of Colombia, for the spiritual regeneration, and the reconciliation of this country.”
“The Pope certainly goes in order to recall this Christianity of Colombia... that he can start a movement for tackling, from the bottom, these problems at the very source,” he said. “Certainly that is the crucial point.”
A professor and vice president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America since May 2014, Carriquiry spoke to journalists after a briefing on the Pope's schedule for Colombia Sept. 1. The Pope's trip, which will include the cities of Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín, and Cartagena, marks the third time Francis has visited his native South America since becoming Pope. His schedule includes Mass in each of the four cities, as well as leading the Angelus on Sunday as usual outside of the church of Saint Peter Claver, where the saint’s remains are buried.
On Sept. 8, in Villavicencio, a large prayer meeting for National Reconciliation will take place, at the end of which there will be a presentation from people who have been victims of violence during the country's prolonged civil war. Pope Francis’ visit comes about one year after a peace accord between the Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was finally reached in August 2016. Following its rejection in an Oct. 2 referendum, a revised agreement was signed Nov. 24 and approved by Colombia's Congress on Nov. 30, this time bypassing a popular vote. Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war.
Pope Francis praised the accord last year, voicing 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.” Despite this, the decision for “this voyage of the Holy Father is realized in a pastoral apostolic visit,” said Archbishop José Octavio Ruiz Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.
Archbishop Ruiz, who led the Archdiocese of Villavicencio from 2002 to 2007, told CNA Sept. 1 it is hoped that Francis' visit will "help the Colombian people to seek that reconciliation, that peace, which is deep in the hearts of all Colombians." There is a "deep desire in the hearts of all Colombians to have peace. The Pope certainly comes to encourage this deep desire," he said.
Colombia faces many challenges at the moment, Carriquiry said, particularly because the reconciliation of a country, after more than 60 years of violence, is difficult. "The Pope considers the peace process a long and arduous process of reconciliation for the country," he explained, "and all of the Colombian people want this, yes, these negotiations, these accords, peace..." But ultimately what the country needs is a "grand movement of regeneration and spirituality and reconciliation in Colombian society," he noted.
Explaining that the peace accord will not solve all of the problems the country faces, such as the culture of drugs and drug trafficking, he said what it really needs is a "major conversion." Colombia is “full of contradictions,” because it is still a stronghold of Christianity and the faith is deeply rooted in the people. But at the same time, it has a culture of violence, drug trafficking, corruption, with decades of war causing many people to be displaced or to become refugees.
Carriquiry said he expects Pope Francis to bring the message of the Gospel to the hearts of Colombians. “Why? Because the Gospel is the greatest force of revolution, of national regeneration, of reconciliation for Colombian society. I am convinced of that aspect of the Pope.” “For actually when we reduce the Pope's presence to a political character it is completely wrong.”