Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s endorsement of last month’s April 9th rallies for peace signaled the beginning of a more active courtship by the government of key opinion leaders, and has opened the door for public expressions of support for the peace process from within and outside of Colombia. Today’s post will look at a few initiatives from the upper levels of the Catholic church hierarchy.
Pope Meets Santos; Madre Laura Canonized as First Colombian Saint
On Sunday, May 13, President Santos visited the Vatican, where he met with Pope Francis and celebrated the canonization of Colombia’s first saint, Madre Laura (perhaps not coincidently on Mother’s Day…). Santos linked both events to the peace agenda in Colombia. He cited Madre Laura’s dedication in her life and writings to the themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, and used his private audience with the Pope to discuss the question of peace in Colombia. Pope Francis encouraged the pursuit of peace, said Santos, and observed that only the courageous pursue such risky missions. Santos noted that the Pope’s words filled him with “emotion, optimism, and energy to continue seeking peace for my country.”
New Apostolic Nuncio Will Work for Peace
The new Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia, Mons. Ettore Balestrero, said in a May 9th interview with Caracol Radio that his primary pastoral task would be to work with the bishops on themes of evangelization and peace. (“La Paz siempre llama la atención de la Iglesia porque es la atención de Dios, la Iglesia desea la Paz por que Cristo nos lleva la paz, ´mi paz os doy, mi paz os dejo´, la iglesia tiene que rezar para la paz y animar a buscar una convivencia que sea siempre en paz,” he notes in the interview.) The prelate’s role will be to represent the Pope before the political and civic institutions of Colombia.
Colombian Bishops Support Peace with Social Justice
The Catholic hierarchy in Colombia has played roles as mediator, facilitator, providing good offices and venues, and carrying out “pastoral dialogues” in every other major peace process until now. The Catholic church has been noticeably absent from Havana’s peace table, and some bishops have emphasized the role of the Catholic church in the later stages of peace-building and reconciliation. The winds seem to have shifted however and religious leaders are beginning to speak out more forcefully about the peace process.
On April 19, the Bishops Peace Council (Consejo Episcopal de Paz) of the Colombian Bishops Conference (Conferencia Episcopal de Colombia) released a powerful statement, “La paz es obra de la justicia,” that supports dialogue as a path to peace, and lays out a framework for a just peace. The 28 members of the Council, headed by Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, note that “peace can only come about as a result of justice that highlights the restorative dimension [of a sentence/”pena”] and is capable of integral reparation for the victims.” They urge the negotiators in Havana to create venues where the legitimate needs of the victims of the armed conflict can be heard and addressed, and to respect the victims’ rights to truth, justice, and reparations. (See full statement here.) The “current conditions of poverty are a breeding ground for violence,” they observe. They recognize that “some sectors will have their doubts or concerns about the negotiation process,” and consider such diversity of opinions a sign of a “healthy democracy and pluralism.” They call for a climate of respect and constructive interchange of ideas. On a related note, the bishops urge the insurgents to “end all attacks on civilians” and call on the government to reach out to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a still-active guerrilla group founded in the 1960s by the revolutionary priest Camilo Torres. The Council offered to facilitate a dialogue process with that insurgent group.