By anyone’s standards, Pope Francis’ visit last week to Colombia was a great success. Except for maybe his doctor’s, since the Holy Father did return home with a shiner over and under his left eye.
A quick stop by the popemobile in some pedestrian congested traffic caused the pope to lunge forward and cut his face. But you would not have known it from Pope Francis, who kept on waving and reaching out to the crowds, while doctors dabbed the blood and wiped his brow.
The pope’s peace mission to the South American nation that has been ravaged by civil war for more than 50 years, caught the imagination of both sides in the conflict and holds hope for a binding calm.
In a spell-binding prayer service in Villavicencio, Pope Francis listened attentively to four witnesses who both caused and endured great suffering during the conflict. One woman told how her husband, son and daughter had been killed by rebel militia. Yet, here she was ready to forgive so that the nation could move forward.
Another told how he had been sucked into the rebels’ jargon and had joined them in the fighting, only to realize that it was not the answer. Now he conducts sports programs for young people so that they have an alternative to gangs and destructive actions.
The crowds along the pope’s motorcade routes were enormous, as they poured out their affection for Francis, the Latin American pope who understood their woes. Whenever estimates at the venues ran into the hundreds of thousands, they were quickly raised into the millions.
The local culture was on display in the costumes and dance routines performed at the airports and outside the nuncio’s residence each evening. The liturgical music jungled with the beat of the Caribbean.
The religious history of the region was hammered home as the names of St. Peter Claver, St. Rose of Lima, and Our Lady of Chiquinquira peppered daily announcements. I even learned about St. Turibius, the first known saint of the New World. They tell me there is a statue of him at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie. I’ll look for it.
The Holy Father’s speeches were a study in forgiveness and reconciliation. Time and time again, he repeated that there can be no reconciliation without forgiveness – a message that holds the secret to peace in Colombia.
Some may wonder why we continue to cover papal trips. First of all, they continue to make news. They never get old and always generate excitement. But the bigger answer is the pope’s message to Colombia was really a recipe to all about how to find meaning in one’s own life.
In Colombia, he was talking about a struggle in a particular country but his words ring true for every other conflict around the globe and even in our own daily lives.
Do yourself a favor. Go back and read the texts of his talks (see below). They provide a consistent message about how to find the serenity we all desire in our day-to-day living.
Pope Francis’ Formal Addresses