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Colombia: Giving peace a chance

Carnival time

Carnival time

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the conflict in Colombia, which has left more than 200,000 dead; nearly six million people homeless; and since the start of the conflict an estimated 30,000 people have ‘disappeared’. Everyone you meet in Colombia has been affected in some way by the war between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army – known as the FARC-EP.

The Church has not escaped the brutality of the conflict - the murders of the Archbishop of Cali Isaías Duarte Cancino and the Bishop of Arauca Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve were dark days for us in the Church.

Today all our efforts are being put into peace and reconciliation, as the only way to heal wounds and ensure a lasting peace for the country.

The Catholic Church in Colombia has been at the forefront of supporting survivors and families of the victims to address government and rebel negotiators at the peace talks in Havana, Cuba, which have been ongoing for over two years.

The reach of the Church is extensive, working with communities along the rivers of the Pacific region, in the rainforest of southern Colombia, in the mountains on the borders, where many of the Church’s pastoral organisations are in constant contact with peasant farmers, Afro-Colombian communities, and indigenous people. It is some of these rural communities who have been hit hardest by the years of conflict, many violently forced off their land.

In support of peace for all Colombians, the Catholic Church launched the 'Soy Capaz' – 'I am able' campaign during September’s Week of Peace. The campaign will run for the rest of the year, and is supported by other institutions in Colombia such as private sector companies.

Colombians have been asked to simply put themselves in the ‘shoes of their ‘enemies.’ For example football teams have swapped their shirts with opposing teams, and businessmen have swapped their black shiny work shoes for muddy cracked leather guerrilla boots, and some companies will be changing the packaging of some of their products to white only – the colour of peace - with messages like: 'I am capable of forgiving'.

The aim of this campaign is to ask people to reflect and consider how they might be able to contribute to bringing an end to the conflict by taking small steps in their daily lives that make a difference.

We at Caritas Colombia understand all too well that peace is not only forged around international negotiating tables between the leadership of warring parties, peace is only sustainable if it’s nurtured from the grassroots. The peace building work that British aid agencies like CAFOD support us with start in the home, in schools, and within families. We are able to create space for people to meet with each other, to listen to each other, to comfort each other and to be reconciled.

The years of conflict have not dampened our pursuit of a lasting peace. We are learning to say “I am able to be a peace-maker”.

I hope that the determined spirit of the Colombian people will reach beyond our borders and inspire others in war-torn countries to raise their voices for peace.

Héctor Fabio is director of Caritas Colombia


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