Source: VIS/Vatican Radio
Pope Francis is due to travel to Colombia today for a five day visit. He will be the third Pope to visit Colombia, in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI in 1964 and Pope Saint John Paul II in 1986. The Holy Father begins his trip in the capital Bogota and also will visit the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.
This is a crucial moment for Colombia, which is in the throes of implementing a peace agreement with FARC rebels after a 52-year internal conflict that has left over 260,000 people dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and over seven million displaced.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, the former British Ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told Linda Bordoni that Pope Francis’ visit there is an extremely important sign of encouragement for the nation’s peace process and will help promote reconciliation. He described the papal visit to Colombia as “extremely important” because it comes in the wake of the "extraordinary progress" and journey that the nation has made towards peace by signing a deal with the main guerrilla group, the FARC, which many thought would have been impossible.
Another key theme of Pope Francis’ visit to Colombia is to encourage the process of reconciliation after such a long and bitter civil war. Baker said it was “incredibly important” that the Pope is meeting victims of the conflict and leading prayers for national reconciliation during his visit.
Baker said the people of Colombia need “to turn the page from the difficult past” and recognize the huge possibilities and “bright future” that peace can bring to their nation.
Pope Francis has sent a video message to the people of Colombia ahead of his visit. The official English-language translation of the text follows:
Dear people of Colombia, in just a few days I will visit your country. I come as a pilgrim of hope and peace to celebrate with you the faith in our Lord and also to learn from your charity and perseverance in search of peace and harmony.
I cordially greet and thank the President of the Republic and the bishops of the Episcopal Conference for the invitation to visit Colombia. I also thank each of you, who welcome me to your land and into your heart. I know that you have worked so very hard to prepare this encounter. My appreciation goes to all who have collaborated – and continue to – so that it may become a reality.
“Let us take the first step” is the theme of this Journey. It reminds us that a first step is always required for any activity or project. It also urges us to be the first to love, in order to build bridges and create solidarity. Taking the first step encourages us to reach out to our neighbor, to extend a helping-hand, and to offer a sign of peace. Peace is what Colombia has sought after for a long time, and she is working to achieve it: A stable and lasting peace, so that we see and treat each other as brothers and not as enemies.
Peace reminds us that we are all children of the same Father, who loves and consoles us. I am honored to visit this land so rich in history, culture, and faith. It is a land of men and women who have laboured with tenacity and perseverance to make it a place where harmony and solidarity reign, where the Gospel is known and loved, and where saying ‘brother and sister’ seems not out of place but a true treasure to protect and defend. Today’s world needs specialists in peace and dialogue. The Church also is called to the task of promoting reconciliation, both with the Lord and between brothers, as well as reconciliation with the environment, which is God’s Creation and which we are savagely exploiting.
My dear Colombian brothers and sisters, I yearn to live these days with you with a joyous spirit and with gratitude to the Lord. I warmly embrace you and ask the Lord to bless you, to protect your country, and to give you peace. And I ask our Mother, the Holy Virgin, to watch over you. And, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you and see you soon.