At Parque Las Malocas, in the presence of the victims of violence, military, police and ex-guerrillas, Pope Francis celebrated the Great Meeting for National Reconciliation. Some victims and two former guerrilla fighters related their testimonies. The land of Colombia is "sacred ground” because it was "watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends.”
Villavicencio (AsiaNews) – “Colombia, open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled. Fear neither the truth nor justice. Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it,” said Pope Francis in his address to the Colombian people Friday afternoon in Parque Las Malocas during the Great Meeting for National Reconciliation. Some of the victims of the violence, military, police and former guerrilla fighters were present along with the bishops.
The gathering was the culmination of the pope’s journey. The Holy Father wants to push people "to take the first step" towards reconciliation. The country after decades of war and hundreds of thousands of victims is beginning to see some signs of peace.
Before Francis spoke, some dances were performed to represent Psalm 85 ("Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss) and two former fighters, Juan Carlos and Deisy related their stories. They left the FARC the self-defence group and now work to rehabilitate youth who use drugs or were involved in militant groups. They were followed by the testimonies of two victims of violence, Pastora Mira García and Luz Dary, also engaged in the rehabilitation of people affected by psychological disorders and physical injuries caused by attacks.
The pope closely followed the testimonies, saying “I have been looking forward to this moment since my arrival in your country. [. . .] I am here not so much to speak, but to be close to you and to see you with my own eyes, to listen to you and to open my heart to your witness of life and faith.”
Calling the land of Colombia “sacred ground”, Francis described it as “A land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends.” Such sacredness is underscored by the presence of the Christ of Bojayá, the broken crucifix without arms and legs, mutilated and scorched by a bomb the exploded in a church on 2 May 2002, killing scores of worshippers.
“To see Christ this way, mutilated and wounded, questions us. He no longer has arms, nor is his body there, but his face remains, with which he looks upon us and loves us. Christ broken and without limbs is for us “even more Christ”, because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people. He came to show us that hatred does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence. He teaches us to transform pain into a source of life and resurrection, so that, with him, we may learn the power of forgiveness, the grandeur of love.”
Speaking about the testimonies, the pontiff noted that these “are stories of suffering and anguish, but also, and above all, [. . .] stories of love and forgiveness that speak to us of life and hope; stories of not letting hatred, vengeance or pain take control of our hearts.”
Citing Pastora Mira and turning towards her, he added, “violence leads to more violence, hatred to more hatred, death to more death. We must break this cycle which seems inescapable; this is only possible through forgiveness and reconciliation. And you, dear Pastora, and so many others like you, have shown us that this is possible. [. . .] It is the Crucified One of Bojayá who has given you this strength to forgive and to love”.
Speaking to Luz Dary, who gave the pope a crutch (he gave the other to a person in need), Francis said, “Your crutch is a symbol of the more important crutch we all need, which is love and forgiveness. By your love and forgiveness, you are helping so many people to walk in life.”
The pontiff also spoke about the “powerful testimony of Deisy and Juan Carlos”, two former guerrilla fighters. They “helped us to understand that, in the end, in one way or another, we too are victims, innocent or guilty, but all victims. We are all united in this loss of humanity that means violence and death.”
Noting their present work with young people, he added, “There is also hope for those who did wrong; all is not lost. Of course, justice requires that perpetrators of wrongdoing undergo moral and spiritual renewal. As Deisy said, we must make a positive contribution to healing our society that has been wounded by violence.”
“It can be difficult to believe that change is possible for those who appealed to a ruthless violence in order to promote their own agenda, protect their illegal affairs so they could gain wealth, or claim – dishonestly – that they were defending the lives of their brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly, it is a challenge for each of us to trust that those who inflicted suffering on communities and on a whole country can take a step forward. It is true that in this enormous field of Colombia there is nevertheless room for weeds… You must be attentive to the fruit… care for the wheat and do not lose peace because of the weeds. “
Truth is necessary for reconciliation. The pope cited Juan Carlos, who had emphasised this aspect, and “let us glimpse in his testimony, throughout this long, difficult, but hopeful process of reconciliation, it is also indispensable to come to terms with the truth. It is a great challenge, but a necessary one. Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy. [. . .] Indeed, truth should not lead to revenge, but rather to reconciliation and forgiveness. Truth means telling families torn apart by pain what happened to their missing relatives. Truth means confessing what happened to minors recruited by violent people. Truth means recognizing the pain of women who are victims of violence and abuse.
“Colombia, open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled. Fear neither the truth nor justice. Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it. Do not resist that reconciliation which allows you to draw near and encounter one another as brothers and sisters, and surmount enmity. Now is the time to heal wounds, to build bridges, to overcome differences. It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance, and to open yourselves to a coexistence founded on justice, truth, and the creation of a genuine culture of fraternal encounter. May we live in harmony and solidarity, as the Lord desires. Let us pray to be builders of peace, so that where there is hatred and resentment, we may bring love and mercy.”
Francis went on to say that he wished "to place all these intentions before the image of the Crucified One, the black Christ of Bojará". The great meeting ended with a prayer attributed to Saint Francis ("Lord make me an instrument of your peace") and with the greeting of some children. The pope then travelled by car to the Parque de los Fundadores where the Cross of Reconciliation is located, with a broken Christ like the Crucifix of Bojayá.