Simplicity and transparency have been key words in the preparations for Pope Francis' visit to Colombia, according to the secretary general of the Colombian bishops' conference. Pope Francis is a “champion” of simplicity through his personal way of life and well as the requirements he makes for an apostolic voyage, Bishop Elkin Fernando Álvarez Botero, an auxiliary bishop of Medellin, told CNA.

“If we just begin with what the Pope asks for during an apostolic visit: a non-armored car, that there be no luxuries, that he's not going to ride in a luxury car, these things. Even thinking about how to host his delegation and himself, that this not entail exorbitant expenses,” he emphasized. “I have participated in the preparations and I can disclose … that we have really cut back a lot of things. You can't cut everything back on everything, some things are required, but many situations in fact have been trimmed down,” Bishop Alvarez added.

The prelate also stressed the importance of transparency, since “this has special significance on a continent where corruption scandals occur every day. Our country is not the exception.” “I know what goes on in other Latin American countries to a greater or lesser extent, but the issue of  financial management for the Pope's visit has to be transparent. The accounting always clear and you can see where the resources are coming from,” he said. “This has been a commitment and we've had to sacrifice, for example putting a cap on donations because it is necessary to exercise a certain control.”

A third important point, Bishop Alvarez emphasized, “is that we all feel responsible.” “If we all work together from our limited means, we can accomplish it. That's what we call in Colombia the dynamic of 'everyone puts in.' If all of us Catholics put in a minimum amount, a dollar, we all feel responsible,” he pointed out.

The Colombian prelate emphasized that “as the days go by, as we get closer to the Holy Father's arrival, our expectations are high, there is great hope. The same feeling one has when something important that you've been preparing for, all of a sudden it's right there.” “At this time we would have wanted to optimize a lot of things that we've been preparing in order to receive well the Holy Father's message, but I believe we're at a good point and therefore we're going to receive it with an open heart, eager for his message and knowing that this is the visit of the Successor of Peter among us,” he said.

Bishop Álvarez emphasized that there is “widespread expectancy” in the Colombian people “for feeling the nearness of the Pope.” “And this is an expectancy common to people of faith, of no faith, because they feel that the Pope interprets human aspirations,” he emphasized. “This is a very Colombian term among us, colloquial: the Pope is arriving, which means the Pope is near, he is able to understand us, the way he and his audience connect.”

“The prevailing feeling here is that having the Pope close, is to have confidence, it's to have security, it's to receive a good message, and everyone wants to feel the nearness of the Pope,” said Bishop Alvarez. “We should take advantage of this, experience more deeply the closeness not just of a human leader, it's the closeness of the Successor of Peter, who invites us to strengthen our faith, that is to firm up our  faith and all that it involves. Not just from the liturgical point of view, but also the aspect of the practice of our faith.”

“I believe that the pope's consistency is admired such that the same consistency ought to appear in the lives of all Christians,” he said. In addition, Pope Francis' visit to Colombia has a special repercussion among the bishops, since it brings with it “the strengthening of the faith and communion of the college of bishops as well.” “I believe that this experience of communion among us and with the Holy Father on the part of the bishops, has been greatly heightened in this preparatory stage,” the prelate said.

Bishop Alvarez also stressed that “Pope Francis is a master of discernment, the discernment of situations. So let us say that the the bishops  place themselves at his side to discern the present time and to determine the pastoral direction that can help us, with all the implications of that discernment.” “Let us say, before God, whose word, to use a biblical term, lays bare our lives, before him the Church has to mark out the way. And if the Pope goes out in front then we will most assuredly have the way,” he said.