Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated the announcement of plans for Pope Francis to travel to Colombia, as the Catholic Church leader urged Colombia to “not lose energy or hope” in the peace process.
The highest representative of the Roman Catholic Church is planning to include the country in his upcoming tour of Latin America, the Vatican ambassador of Colombia confirmed last Thursday. The visit — yet to be given a date — will be the first papal visit since 1986.
Santos took to Twitter to express his enthusiasm at the news.
“We will receive (the Pope) with open arms and hearts as a messenger of peace and reconciliation,” the president wrote.
Vatican representative Ettore Balestrero said that the Colombian visit would be in support of ongoing efforts in the country to make peace between the state and leftist rebel groups that have been at war for more than half a century.
This was reinforced by a letter sent on the Pope’s behalf to Colombian bishops for Holy Week, written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The letter urges Colombians to “not lose energy or hope” at this crucial time in the peace process and encourages them “to continue to work for truth, justice and reparation” so that “what went before will never be repeated.”
“We must continue the commitment to the displaced, to survivors of land mines, those who have endured the taking of their property, the kidnapped, with everyone who has suffered,” said the Vatican.
Santos on Friday described the letter as “a great encouragement for Colombians to continue working for peace.”
The FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government have been engaged in negotiations since November 2012.
The warring parties have so far agreed on a rural reform, future political participation of the FARC and drug trafficking.
However, agreement has still not been reached on the final end of the conflict, which would include an indefinite end to hostilities and the integration of FARC members to a process of Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration, or DDR.
So far, the FARC has insisted on laying down but not surrendering its weapons.
The Vatican referenced the complicated nature of the process in last Thursday’s letter.
“Constructing peace,” it says, “is a complex process that does not come to completion in short term spaces or plans. Risks need to be taken to cement peace…”
If the peace talks prove successful they will end a conflict that according to official statistics has left more than 7 million victims.
The official date of the Pope’s visit is expected in the coming days, once the agenda of his South American tour is finalized.
Pope Francis encourages Colombians in peace talks (Vatican Radio)
Gobierno celebra la visita del papa Francisco a Colombia (El Espectador)