As Colombia prepares to welcome Pope Francis amidst implementing a delicate peace accord, Colombians in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens have faith that the visit will foster peace.
“It’s a blessing from God for Colombia, for Latin America, for the whole world,” said Msgr. Faustino Cordero, a Colombian native, now living at St. Finbar, Bath Beach.
The pope is visiting Colombia as peace talks, with the aid of the United Nations, have ended a 53-year conflict between the government and FARC, a guerilla militia, that left roughly 270,000 people dead and 7 million people displaced. The violence in the affected areas infiltrated people’s daily lives so completely that school children are given instruction on how to avoid land mines on the first day of classes.
Reconciliation is not an easy thing to achieve, said Deacon Guillermo Gomez, coordinator of the diocesan ministry to Colombian immigrants. He said the peace deal itself can seem to some to have too much politics and not enough justice. However, it is a step in the right direction, he said. The visit from the pope will serve not as a political stamp of approval, but an affirmation of the labor toward peace.
Deacon Gomez has been in the United States for more than 40 years, but he believes it is his duty to pay close attention to the news from his native land, especially around the visit of the pope.
“I’m still Colombian,” he said. “No matter how long I have been here I still feel the suffering of the people.”
Msgr. Cordero came to the U.S. in 1977 and also believes it is his duty to pay attention to the news from his country. He says he watches NET, The Tablet’s sister television station, and EWTN, for reliable Catholic news to gain a better understanding of the visit. He said it is important for him to be well-informed so that he can support the peace process. He wants to listen closely so that he can help spread the message that the pope will bring to Colombia, including through social media.
He said it is important to remind people of the dignity of all people. The guerrilas are children of God as well. That is why it is important for the pope to meet with people from all sides.
Father Jose Muñoz, a native Colombian currently at Our Lady of the Angelus, Rego Park, said that people in Colombia are excited and open to the pope’s message. He said that he has heard from his sibling in Colombia how the visit is planned to the very last detail. Everyone is helping out and is in great expectation. They want to welcome the people with open arms. They view him as the representative of Jesus Christ on Earth and the universal pastor who came to support his people as they are working to better themselves and their country.
Father Muñoz said it is also significant that Pope Francis will visit as the first Latin American pope, able to speak to the people in their shared tongue with ease.
Using one of Pope Francis’ prefered metaphors, Father Muñoz pointed out that Pope Francis smells like the sheep and so his flock will follow him. His reputation of charity, poverty and mercy precedes him, as does his reputation of being able to get things done. They remember that he was one of the primary authors of “Aparecida,” a document that came out of the 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops that set guidelines on the future of the Church that are still being applied to current pastoral ministry.
Darío López, a Colombian native and a reporter for Nuestra Voz, the diocesan Spanish language monthly, said the pope would not even have to say a word for his trip to be a success. His mere presence inspires peace. Taking note of how many people said they felt inner peace simply by being in proximity to him during the pope’s visit to New York, Lopez said, the same could be true in Colombia. He hopes Pope Francis will inspire people to set aside their anger and their hurt, for the good of the country.
A Mass of thanksgiving for the papal visit to Colombia will be held at St. Joan of Arc, Jackson Heights, Sept. 15, 7 p.m. Colombian-born Bishop Alfonso Cabezas, C.M., will be the main celebrant.