VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis had promised to visit Colombia once a peace accord was in place, but his visit Sept. 6-10 is less about congratulations than about consolidation.
“He comes to take the first step with us,” said the bishops of Colombia in a document designed to prepare people for the pope’s visit.
In the Gospel of St. John, the apostle Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb after Jesus’ resurrection, the bishops wrote. In a similar way, St. Peter’s successor, the pope, will visit Colombia, which they described as “a terrible tomb” that “has been crushed with armed conflict, drug trafficking, insecurity and inequality.”
Looking at Pope Francis’ previous visits to places trying to overcome civil strife, violence and division – the Holy Land, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Central African Republic – it is clear Pope Francis recognizes that making and keeping peace require courage and sacrifice.
The people of Colombia are right to celebrate the 2016 peace accord that came after the suffering of 52 years of civil war. Pope Francis obviously will praise that accomplishment, but he also will urge them to “take the first step” toward reconciliation, the theme of the visit.
After a conflict in which at least 220,000 people died and more than six million people were uprooted from their homes, it won’t be easy. A small rebel group that was not part of the 2016 accord still exists, and the country faces a host of complicated processes for reintegrating former combatants into society and compensating victims of the conflict.
“Peace is a work of justice,” Pope Francis said during a Mass in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 2015. It is “not a justice proclaimed, imagined, planned, but rather a justice put into practice, lived out.”
The first step has to be to let go of festering anger and resentment, the pope has said. But he knows that is not easy.