BOGOTA — At the start of his first full day in Colombia, Pope Francis urged Colombians to persevere on the path to reconciliation and reject violence despite an unpopular peace deal that has left the country deeply divided.
“There has been too much hatred and vengeance,” Francis said in a speech at the country’s presidential palace, his first address of the day. “We do not want any type of violence whatsoever to restrict or destroy one more life.”
Colombia has recently emerged from a bloody civil war that lasted over 50 years, left 220,000 dead and displaced millions. But the country remains divided over a 2016 deal between the government and the FARC guerrilla group that brought an end to the violence. The deal gave amnesty to 7,000 former FARC guerillas, and some may win seats in Congress. Many Colombians think the deal is far too kind to the rebels.
Francis urged the crowd of 750 members of Colombia’s elite to remain committed to peace despite the unpopularity of the deal.
“The more demanding the path … the greater must be our efforts to acknowledge each other, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and support one another,” he said.
But Francis told the lawmakers that just laws are needed to resolve the “structural causes of poverty that lead to exclusion and violence.” He called inequality “the root of social ills,” and said Colombia needs the participation of all members of society — including the indigenous people and women — to thrive.
Later in the morning, he told 22,000 young people gathered in front of the Cardinal’s Palace that they must be agents of healing through forgiveness.
“Your youthfulness also makes you capable of something very difficult in life: forgiving,” he said. “It is remarkable to see how you do not get entangled in old stories, how you watch with surprise when we adults repeat events that divide us simply by being tied to resentments.”
Francis will spend the entire day in Bogota, visiting its cathedral and addressing the country’s bishops. Later in the afternoon, he will celebrate mass before an expected crowd of over 1 million people.
Large enthusiastic crowds have lined the streets of Bogota to catch a glimpse of the pope in his popemobile, chanting and running alongside it.
This is Francis’ 20th trip abroad, and the fifth to his native continent of South America.
In addition to Bogota, the Pope will also visit the city of Villavicencio – where he will lead a prayer for national reconciliation – as well as Medellin and Cartagena, before heading back to Rome on Sunday night.