diofav 23

Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

091117 pope girlCARTAGENA, Colombia — Pope Francis said he had no magic words or special recipes for Colombians seeking peace, but rather he wanted to listen to them, learn from them and travel a bit of the road with them.

He had a small accident on the road Sept. 10 in Cartagena, the last city and last day of his five-day trip: Riding in the popemobile down a street packed with people who wanted to see him, Pope Francis turned and bashed his face on the edge of the window, cutting his eyebrow and provoking a sizable bump on his left cheekbone.

While the bruise would fade, the overall experience of the trip was likely to linger. "I really was moved by the joy, the tenderness ... the nobility of the Colombian people," he later told reporters flying back to Rome with him.

Before ending the trip with a Mass in Cartagena, Pope Francis had visited Bogota, Villavicencio and Medellin. He celebrated a large outdoor Mass in each city and had a packed schedule of meetings with government officials, bishops, youths, children living in a group home, and with priests, religious and seminarians.

The painful realities of Colombia's recent past were openly acknowledged with tears and hugs Sept. 8 in Villavicencio. At a national prayer service for reconciliation, a former member of the main rebel group and a former fighter with a paramilitary group shared their stories and asked forgiveness. A woman who lost two small children in the fighting and another still limping from injuries suffered in an explosion in 2012 offered to "forgive the unforgiveable," as Pastora Mira Garcia, the mourning mother, told the pope.

The theme of his trip was "Let's take the first step," and Pope Francis told reporters he hoped that, after he left, Colombians would take a second step.

Pope Francis seemed confident. No matter how thorough political leaders and professional mediators are in bartering and building consensus, he said, "the protagonist of peacemaking is the people; if not, it will only go so far."

The country is divided not only between those who participated in the war and those who innocently suffered its effects, but also between those who support and those who oppose the 2016 treaty that led to the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as FARC.

Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota told the pope Sept. 7 that the process of building peace "has become a source of political polarization that every day sows division, confrontation and disorientation."

But the cardinal also brought up an issue Pope Francis repeatedly warned could undo any hope for peace.

"We are a country marked by deep inequalities and inequities that demand radical changes in all fields of social life," the cardinal said. "But it does not seem we are willing to pay the price required."

No peace deal can last without addressing the poverty and social exclusion that led so many people to fight in the first place, the pope said.

"If Colombia wants a stable and lasting peace," he said Sept. 10, "it must urgently take a step in this direction, which is that of the common good, of equity, of justice, of respect for human nature and its demands. Only if we help to untie the knots of violence will we unravel the complex threads of disagreements."

With St. Peter Claver, the 17th-century Jesuit saint and apostle of the slaves, never far from his mind, Pope Francis asked Colombians to ensure all the nation's people are part of its progress.

The pope ended his trip in the city where the saint died and his relics are venerated.

St. Peter Claver ministered tirelessly to the African slaves brought to the Caribbean port town in the 1600s, and "he faced strong criticism and persistent opposition from those who feared that his ministry would undermine the lucrative slave trade," the pope said, standing in front of the church built in his honor.

St. Peter Claver knew what the Gospel was calling him to do, the pope said, even though it was not popular at the time.

With great respect for what Colombians have suffered and admiration for the faith and hope they managed to maintain despite a 52-year civil war, Pope Francis asked them to look beyond their old behaviors and alliances and ask what new thing God might want of them.

"We are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived," the pope said at a Mass in Medellin Sept. 9.

Throughout the trip, it seemed like the pope had all the time in the world. He never seemed to tire. He never cut short a speech and told those who waited for hours that they would get printed copies of the full text. In fact, on several occasions he added long sections -- particularly when talking about the evils of the drug trade.

And every evening, after a long day of traveling, reading speeches and celebrating Mass for hundreds of thousands of people, he set aside time for spontaneity.

With the doors of the apostolic nunciature where he was staying just a stone's throw away, Pope Francis would watch the evening's groups perform a folk dance or sing songs or play instruments. One or two or three of them would make a little speech describing what their organization does. And the pope would respond with a few remarks of his own.

No more than 2,000 people could gather on the street outside the nunciature for the evening encounter, but it may have been Pope Francis' favorite part of the day.

Throughout the trip, he urged every Colombian to make some gesture of peace: to forgive someone or help someone. On a small scale, that's what the groups that outside the nunciature were doing, whether that meant offering shelter and a future to street children, promoting the social inclusion of young people with Down syndrome or strengthening fragile families.

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

091117 pope girlCARTAGENA, Colombia — Pope Francis said he had no magic words or special recipes for Colombians seeking peace, but rather he wanted to listen to them, learn from them and travel a bit of the road with them.

He had a small accident on the road Sept. 10 in Cartagena, the last city and last day of his five-day trip: Riding in the popemobile down a street packed with people who wanted to see him, Pope Francis turned and bashed his face on the edge of the window, cutting his eyebrow and provoking a sizable bump on his left cheekbone.

While the bruise would fade, the overall experience of the trip was likely to linger. "I really was moved by the joy, the tenderness ... the nobility of the Colombian people," he later told reporters flying back to Rome with him.

Before ending the trip with a Mass in Cartagena, Pope Francis had visited Bogota, Villavicencio and Medellin. He celebrated a large outdoor Mass in each city and had a packed schedule of meetings with government officials, bishops, youths, children living in a group home, and with priests, religious and seminarians.

The painful realities of Colombia's recent past were openly acknowledged with tears and hugs Sept. 8 in Villavicencio. At a national prayer service for reconciliation, a former member of the main rebel group and a former fighter with a paramilitary group shared their stories and asked forgiveness. A woman who lost two small children in the fighting and another still limping from injuries suffered in an explosion in 2012 offered to "forgive the unforgiveable," as Pastora Mira Garcia, the mourning mother, told the pope.

The theme of his trip was "Let's take the first step," and Pope Francis told reporters he hoped that, after he left, Colombians would take a second step.

Pope Francis seemed confident. No matter how thorough political leaders and professional mediators are in bartering and building consensus, he said, "the protagonist of peacemaking is the people; if not, it will only go so far."

The country is divided not only between those who participated in the war and those who innocently suffered its effects, but also between those who support and those who oppose the 2016 treaty that led to the demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as FARC.

Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota told the pope Sept. 7 that the process of building peace "has become a source of political polarization that every day sows division, confrontation and disorientation."

But the cardinal also brought up an issue Pope Francis repeatedly warned could undo any hope for peace.

"We are a country marked by deep inequalities and inequities that demand radical changes in all fields of social life," the cardinal said. "But it does not seem we are willing to pay the price required."

No peace deal can last without addressing the poverty and social exclusion that led so many people to fight in the first place, the pope said.

"If Colombia wants a stable and lasting peace," he said Sept. 10, "it must urgently take a step in this direction, which is that of the common good, of equity, of justice, of respect for human nature and its demands. Only if we help to untie the knots of violence will we unravel the complex threads of disagreements."

With St. Peter Claver, the 17th-century Jesuit saint and apostle of the slaves, never far from his mind, Pope Francis asked Colombians to ensure all the nation's people are part of its progress.

The pope ended his trip in the city where the saint died and his relics are venerated.

St. Peter Claver ministered tirelessly to the African slaves brought to the Caribbean port town in the 1600s, and "he faced strong criticism and persistent opposition from those who feared that his ministry would undermine the lucrative slave trade," the pope said, standing in front of the church built in his honor.

St. Peter Claver knew what the Gospel was calling him to do, the pope said, even though it was not popular at the time.

With great respect for what Colombians have suffered and admiration for the faith and hope they managed to maintain despite a 52-year civil war, Pope Francis asked them to look beyond their old behaviors and alliances and ask what new thing God might want of them.

"We are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived," the pope said at a Mass in Medellin Sept. 9.

Throughout the trip, it seemed like the pope had all the time in the world. He never seemed to tire. He never cut short a speech and told those who waited for hours that they would get printed copies of the full text. In fact, on several occasions he added long sections -- particularly when talking about the evils of the drug trade.

And every evening, after a long day of traveling, reading speeches and celebrating Mass for hundreds of thousands of people, he set aside time for spontaneity.

With the doors of the apostolic nunciature where he was staying just a stone's throw away, Pope Francis would watch the evening's groups perform a folk dance or sing songs or play instruments. One or two or three of them would make a little speech describing what their organization does. And the pope would respond with a few remarks of his own.

No more than 2,000 people could gather on the street outside the nunciature for the evening encounter, but it may have been Pope Francis' favorite part of the day.

Throughout the trip, he urged every Colombian to make some gesture of peace: to forgive someone or help someone. On a small scale, that's what the groups that outside the nunciature were doing, whether that meant offering shelter and a future to street children, promoting the social inclusion of young people with Down syndrome or strengthening fragile families.

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Be brave in finding new ways to live, share the faith, pope says

Be brave in finding new ways to live, share the faith, pope says

MEDELLIN, Colombia — In a city many think of as being synonymous with new directions for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told Colombian Catholics faith is not measured by how well they follow rules, but by the depth of their prayer life and the degree to which it pushes them to share the Gospel.

The pope's visit to Medellin Sept. 9 began so wet and so foggy that he was forced to travel the 30 miles from Rionegro airport by car rather than helicopter. The change in plans meant the Mass began 45 minutes later than scheduled.

But by the time the service did begin, the rain had stopped and the fog had begun to lift, providing a clear view of the city's skyscrapers and the lush green mountains beyond. Before the opening prayer, Pope Francis apologized for the wait and thanked the estimated 1.3 million people for their patience.

The bishops of Latin America met in Medellin in 1968 and formally committed themselves to a "preferential option for the poor," to the support of small Christian communities and to a Gospel-based reading of their social and economic realities. While their commitments were rooted in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, their focus on Latin America's concrete situation marked a sharp change in direction.

In his homily in Medellin, Pope Francis said that when Jesus' disciples first began following him, they had to go through a process of conversion and purification, changing the way they saw the relationship between Jewish law and faith in God.

"Some of the precepts, prohibitions and mandates made them feel secure," the pope said. "Fulfilling certain practices and rites dispensed them from the uncomfortable question: 'What would God like us to do?'"

Following Jesus and sharing the good news of salvation in him, he said, means leaving one's comfort zone and going out, encountering others and concretely showing them God's love.

"It is of the greatest importance that we who call ourselves disciples not cling to a certain style or to particular practices that cause us to be more like some Pharisees than like Jesus," he said.

The law is meant to guide people in doing good and it is not to be ignored, the pope said. But true faith means going deeper, experiencing God's love, changing one's life and getting involved in what can improve the lives of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.

"As Jesus 'shook' the doctors of the law to break them free of their rigidity," the pope said, the Holy Spirit "shakes" the church so that its members not settle into a lazy comfort, but are constantly challenged by Christ and constantly reaching out.

"We are called upon to be brave, to have that evangelical courage which springs from knowing that there are many who are hungry, who hunger for God, who hunger for dignity, because they have been deprived," the pope said.

"We cannot be Christians who continually put up 'do not enter' signs," Pope Francis said, because "the church is not ours, she is God's. He is the owner of the temple and the field; everyone has a place, everyone is invited to find here, and among us, his or her nourishment. "

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

On 'sacred ground' of suffering, pope prays for reconciliation

On 'sacred ground' of suffering, pope prays for reconciliation

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — In a raw, honest prayer service where victims and perpetrators of violence stood under the gaze of a bomb-damaged crucifix, Pope Francis urged Colombians to summon the courage to make peace.

Symbolically presiding over the event Sept. 8 was what remained of a crucifix from the church in Bojaya, an image of Jesus whose arms and legs were blown off in 2002 when an improvised homemade mortar launched by rebels crashed through the roof of a church and exploded.

The United Nations was unable to verify the exact number of people killed; some reports say 79 people died, others say 119 people died. All agree that almost half the victims were children.

"I am standing on sacred ground," Pope Francis said at the prayer service, "a land watered by the blood of thousands of innocent victims and by the heart-breaking sorrow of their families and friends."

In 2016, leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly called FARC, apologized for the massacre in the Bojaya church. The rebels had been engaged in a firefight with members of a paramilitary group; the church, where frightened civilians were hiding, was between their positions.

Leiner Palacios Asprilla was next door to the church, in the house belonging to the Missionary Sisters of St. Augustine. The house also was hit.

Dressed all in white, like many of the thousands of victims who gathered for the prayer service with the pope, Palacios said, "You have to take it seriously because the (FARC) apology began a process." Besides, he said, the group admitted it was a horrible error "and they promised to change."

Speaking to reporters before the event, he said Pope Francis' presence in Villavicencio "is a sign of his solidarity with Colombians who suffer."

"Colombia is a very Catholic country, and he can motivate those who are uncertain" about supporting the peace process. Just over half the population voted against a peace referendum in 2016, mostly because they believed the government was letting the rebels and militias off too easily.

Referring at the service to the bombing that tore the arms and legs from the Christ of Bojaya, Pope Francis said, "They have torn away your children who sought refuge in you."

But he did not stop there. He prayed that Christ would help "us to commit ourselves to restoring your body."

"May we be your feet that go forth to encounter our brothers and sisters in need; your arms to embrace those who have lost their dignity; your hands to bless and console those who weep alone," Pope Francis prayed.

"Christ broken and without limbs is for us 'even more Christ,'" the pope said, "because he shows us once more that he came to suffer for his people and with his people."

Four people gave their testimony at the encounter: Deisy Sanchez Rey, who fought in a paramilitary group for three years before she was arrested and imprisoned for two years; Juan Carlos Murcia Perdomo, a FARC fighter for 12 years; Pastora Mira Garcia, whose two small children were killed by the paramilitary militias; and Luz Dary Landazury, who was wounded in 2012 by a bomb blast.

Pope Francis responded directly to each of them, paying tribute to their honesty, their pain and their efforts to start a new life by forgiving and asking forgiveness.

"It can be difficult to believe that change is possible for those who appealed to a ruthless violence in order to promote their own agenda, protect their illegal affairs so they could gain wealth, or claim -- dishonestly -- that they were defending the lives of their brothers and sisters," the pope said.

But truth, forgiveness and reconciliation are the only ways to break the cycle of violence that caused so much suffering, he said. "Fear neither the truth nor justice."

En route back to the airport, Pope Francis was to visit the Cross of Reconciliation at Los Fundadores Park. The cross was carried in a Via Crucis service throughout the region in 2012 before being placed in the park. The plaque lists the number of local people kidnapped, murdered or who died from injuries caused by landmines from 1964 to 2016.

Being vulnerable is being human, pope tells young people

Being vulnerable is being human, pope tells young people

BOGOTA, Colombia — Proudly showing off their costumes for television cameras before Pope Francis arrived, dozens of young people with Down syndrome and other developmental challenges were obviously proud and pleased.

Pope Francis, smiling broadly, was obviously delighted by the precision of the traditional Colombian songs and dances they performed for him Sept. 7 outside the Vatican nunciature, where he was staying.

But the atmosphere changed when one of the young women spoke.

Just to make sure everyone heard her, the pope asked the "beautiful Maria" to repeat what she had said.

"We want a world in which vulnerability is recognized as essential to the human person," Maria repeated. Vulnerability, "far from weakening, strengthens and dignifies us" and is "a common meeting place that humanizes us."

Pope Francis seconded what Maria said, insisting vulnerability is part of "the essence of being human."

"We are all vulnerable, everyone," he said. Some people are particularly vulnerable in their feelings and reactions to other people, so no one sees that vulnerability. Other people have vulnerabilities that are obvious.

Either way, the pope said, that vulnerability must be "respected, caressed, cared for as much as possible."

Pope Francis ended the brief meeting by leading the young people in reciting a Hail Mary. And, to his usual "please, do not forget to pray for me," he added, "because I am very vulnerable."

Be the first to take a step for peace, pope says at Mass with victims
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Be the first to take a step for peace, pope says at Mass with victims

Be the first to take a step for peace, pope says at Mass with victims

090717 pope massVILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — If just one victim of Colombia's civil war forgives his or her aggressor, it can set off a chain reaction of hope for reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass Sept. 8 in Villavicencio, a city filled with those who fled their homes during the war and with former fighters trying to start over, Pope Francis pleaded for honesty and courage.

At the beginning of the Mass, he held up two heroic examples of those who gave their lives to "rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness": Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948.

Pope Francis beatified the two at the Mass, which was celebrated in the middle of a broad field, typical of the area's cattle ranching terrain.

In his homily, the pope acknowledged that, during 52 years of war, many at the Mass suffered horrors.

"How many of you can tell of exiles and grief," he said.

The Christian call to reconciliation is not something abstract, the pope said. "If it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance." It requires acknowledging the truth and letting victims speak.

And "when victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace," he said. "What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so. We need only one good person to have hope. And each of us can be that person.

"This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts. This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices," Pope Francis insisted. Reconciliation must be accompanied by a firm commitment to change the inequalities and behaviors that fueled the war for decades.

Celebrating Mass in an area known as the gateway to the Amazon, the pope said he could not ignore the need for reconciliation with the natural environment.

"It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and subjugate," he said. To the delight of many in the crowd, he quoted the famous Colombian singer and peace activist, Juanes: "The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence. The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Defend life, equality, unity, pope tells Colombians

Defend life, equality, unity, pope tells Colombians

090717 pope colombiaBOGOTA, Colombia — Consolidating peace in Colombia will mean overcoming "the darkness" of inequality and a lack of respect for human life, Pope Francis said.

"Here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life," the pope said in his homily at a late-afternoon Mass Sept. 7 in Bogota's Simon Bolivar Park.

Colombian authorities said more than 1.1 million people gathered in the park for the Mass. Many of them were soaked in a rainstorm before the pope arrived, but as Mass began, bits of blue sky began to appear.

Still, preaching about the Gospel story of Jesus' first encountering Simon Peter after the fishermen had fished all night without luck, Pope Francis spoke about the "turmoil and darkness" of the sea as a symbol for "everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it."

For Colombia, just starting to recover from more than 50 years of civil war, and for many other nations as well, the pope said, the threats come from "the darkness of injustice and social inequality; (and) the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all."

The threats include "the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims," he said. But "Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness."

In society, in politics and in the church, Pope Francis said, people can get "tangled up in endless discussions" about what went wrong and whose fault it is. But the only way forward is to follow Jesus, obeying his command to cast out the nets, which means taking responsibility for personal conversion and changing the world.

"Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him," Pope Francis told the crowd, which included Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife.

Jesus wants people to leave behind their fears, "which paralyze us and prevent us (from) becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life."

The people of Colombia, he said, are called to continue their conversion to peace and respect for all the nation's people. That can happen only by promoting unity, "working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother's womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization."

Jesus calls people "out of darkness and bring us to light and to life," the pope said. "He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms," asking the strong "to carry the most fragile and promote their rights."

After the Mass, Pope Francis was scheduled to greet bishops from neighboring countries, including from Venezuela, which is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis.

Venezuelan Cardinals Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas and Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida told reporters Pope Francis also invited them to the nunciature, where he is staying, to discuss the crisis with him.

"We have the highest inflation in the world, an inflation of 700,000-800,000 percent," Cardinal Urosa said. It is "a truly desperate situation. There are people who eat the garbage; yes, there are people who eat garbage, and there are people who die because there is no medicine."

He said the bishops also wanted to tell the pope more about "the serious political situation, because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist."

Cardinal Porras added, "I think that this meeting is a real gift that the pope is giving to all of the Venezuelan people through the bishops who are here."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Pursue peace through social inclusion, pope tells Colombian officials

Pursue peace through social inclusion, pope tells Colombian officials

BOGOTA, Colombia — Pope Francis urged Colombians to put aside prejudice and pursue peace through social inclusion, fighting inequality and paying attention to the plight of the country's most marginalized populations, such as campesinos, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples.

Speaking alongside President Juan Manuel Santos, the pope called on Colombians to recognize that "real wealth is diversity" and to pursue a "culture of encounter," in which people are at the center of all political, social and economic activity. Promoting such a culture would "help us flee from the temptation of revenge and the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests."

"I encourage you to look to all those who today are excluded and marginalized by society, those who have no value in the eyes of the majority, who are held back, cast aside. Everyone is needed in the work of creating and shaping society. This is not achieved simply with those of 'pure blood,' but by all," the pope told Santos and government officials Sept. 7 outside the Casa de Narino, Colombia's presidential palace.

"Please ... listen to the poor, to those who suffer," he added. "Look them in the eye and let yourselves be continually questioned by their faces racked with pain and by their pleading hands. From them we learn true lessons about life, humanity and dignity."

The speech -- invoking St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit who fought discrimination and the slave trade in Colombia -- was Pope Francis' first official event on his five-day visit to the South American country.

Pope Francis arrived in Colombia as the country pursues peace after five decades of armed conflict. That conflict has claimed 220,000 lives and left millions more victimized and displaced. Many of those victims came from the poorest strata of Colombian society.

"Our gaze fixes upon the weakest, the oppressed and maltreated, those who have no voice, either because it has been taken from them, or was never given to them, or because they are ignored," the pope said, as children sat behind on a platform in front of the presidential palace columns.

The pope also emphasized the importance of family -- "envisioned by God to be the fruit of spousal love" -- as a source of social cohesion and "that place where we learn to live with others despite our difference and to belong to one another."

Colombia's government and a Marxist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, reached a peace accord last year. The FARC is demobilizing and recently formed a political party. Another Marxist group, the National Liberation Army, is in talks with the government and agreed to a four-month cease-fire in the days before the pope's arrival.

The peace accord with the FARC has proved polemic; some in Colombia disapprove of FARC leaders receiving reduced punishments for committing atrocities and fear the presence of former guerrillas in the country's political process.

Pope Francis has not specifically endorsed the peace accord, but he saluted the process of bringing peace to Colombia.

"Over the past year, significant progress has been made. The steps taken give rise to hope, in the conviction that seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a task which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone," Pope Francis said. "It is an endeavor challenging us not to weaken our efforts to build the unity of the nation."

Santos, who has promoted the peace accord in the face of stiff opposition, called the pope's visit a "push" to take the first steps toward peace and reconciliation.

"It's no use silencing our weapons if we continue armed in our hearts," the president said. "It's no use ending a war if we still pursue each other as enemies. That's why were need to reconcile.

"We trust your visit will open the hearts and minds of Colombians to the peace that comes from God and inhabits the souls of men. This is the peace we are constructing," he told the pope.

Pope Francis ended by telling the country, "you have a great and noble mission, which is also a difficult task," then quoting Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "In spite of this, before oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the unending wars down the centuries, have been able to subdue the tenacious advantage of life over death. An advantage which is both increasing and accelerating."

— David Agren, Catholic News Service

Colombia youths must teach elders to forgive, to move on, pope says

Colombia youths must teach elders to forgive, to move on, pope says

BOGOTA, Colombia — As Colombia strives to build a lasting peace, the country's elders need the encouragement and insistence of young people, who believe with all their hearts that forgiveness is possible and grudges don't have to last for decades, Pope Francis said.

The pope turned what was originally described as the "blessing of the faithful" Sept. 7 into a rallying cry to an estimated 22,000 young Colombians gathered in Plaza Bolivar outside the cathedral and cardinal's residence.

"Dream big," he told them. "Help us, your elders, not grow accustomed to pain and death."

Pope Francis not only described the youths as the "hope of Colombia and of the church," but he said that when they walk the path of empathy, understanding, encounter, forgiveness and hope, people can see in them the actions of Jesus, "the messenger of peace, the one who brings us good news."

"Do not let anyone rob you of your joy," the pope told the youths, who were singing, dancing and waving flags and homemade, oversized foam gloves.

"Keep joy alive," he told them. "It is a sign of a young heart, of a heart that has encountered the Lord."

Fueled by joy, he said, young people can spread hope and confidence in a new future for Colombia, one that finally and definitively turns the corner after more than 50 years of civil war, death and destruction.

"Do not be afraid of the future," the pope said. "Dare to dream big."

Young people almost naturally are sensitive to the suffering of others, he said. That's why so many volunteer organizations all over the world rely on the young to carry out their work. It is possible, he added, that "death, pain and division have impacted you so deeply that they have left you half-dazed, as if numb," but he pleaded with them to open their hearts to the suffering of others and mobilize to respond.

Living in a country at war, experiences of poverty or of broken homes, seeing peers give in to drug addiction -- all those things make young people see that "not everything is black and white," the pope said. Some people react by falling into relativism, thinking that nothing is clearly right or wrong -- but "wrong is always wrong and cannot just be smoothed over," he said.

Another reaction, a better reaction, Pope Francis said, is that of "perceiving the pain of those who suffered," not only judging actions, but understanding the individuals involved and the "endless number of causes, of mitigating factors."

That understanding, the pope said, must be extended to the youths' parents and grandparents, who "could not or did not know how" to come to an understanding and to end the civil war sooner.

Young people are experts at not getting "entangled in old stories" and grudges, he said. "You help us in the desire to leave behind what has hurt us, to look to the future without the burden of hatred."

"Precisely for this reason you are facing the enormous challenge of helping us to heal our hearts; of passing on to us the youthful hope which is always ready to give others a second chance," Pope Francis said.

He ended with a plea and prayer for all the nation's people: "Do not let difficulties weigh you down; may violence not break you; may evil not overwhelm you."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Pope arrives to help promote healing in Colombia, scarred by war

Pope arrives to help promote healing in Colombia, scarred by war

090717 pope coloBOGOTA, Colombia — Pope Francis arrived in Colombia Sept. 6 for a five-day visit to promote reconciliation in a deeply Catholic country scarred and reticent to offer forgiveness after decades of war.

The pope was greeted was welcomed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez Munera. Children in traditional costumes presented him with flowers, and the pope greeted members of the Colombian military, including soldiers injured in the line of duty.

In a gesture to promote the themes of peace and reconciliation, he was given a dove by a boy named Emmanuel, who was born in a guerrilla camp to Colombian politician Clara Rojas, kidnapped in 2002 and released nearly six years later.

On the 12-hour flight from Rome, Pope Francis told reporters that the trip was "to help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace."

Expectations for Pope Francis' visit are running high among Colombian Catholics. It's the first papal trip to Colombia since 1986, when St. John Paul II visited.

But he arrived after the signing of a peace accord promising to put Colombia on a path of ending more than 50 years of armed conflict. Just days before the visit, the National Liberation Army, a Marxist organization carrying out crimes like kidnap and bombings, and the government agreed to a four-month cease-fire.

Challenges remain, especially as many Colombians -- including Catholics and those of conservative persuasions -- object to the idea of demobilized Marxist guerrillas accused of atrocities receiving reduced punishments and even participating in politics. Those persecuted by paramilitaries voice similar misgivings.

"We are expecting that the pope brings a lot of hope," said Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, director of Caritas Colombia. "The pope arrives at a time when reconciliation is the greatest challenge. We hope that his message touches the hearts of those who have suffered due to this conflict."

The papal trip carries the motto: "Let's take the first step," purposely chosen to convey a sense of collective involvement in the country's peace process.

"The motto of the apostolic trip says exactly what we are expecting: Let's take the first step," said Auxiliary Bishop Juan Carlos Cardenas Toro of Cali. "This first step by the pope, stepping off the flight to come closer to this nation, which has suffered, is something for us that opens the door to hope."

The Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym as FARC, reached a peace accord in 2016, in which the FARC agreed to demobilize. The agreement has proved polemic, even though violence perpetrated by guerrilla groups, government soldiers and paramilitaries has left an estimated 220,000 dead and millions more displaced.

Catholics are divided on the peace accord, and Colombian bishops have stayed on the sidelines, while encouraging the laity to voice their opinions. Many conservative Catholics, along with evangelicals, argued the deal included provisions harmful to the traditional family -- a charge denied by peace accord proponents; opponents turned out to defeat the deal in a plebiscite.

The accord later was reworked and approved in Congress. People say they want peace, but disagree -- often strongly -- on how to pursue it

"The church itself reflects the divisions in Colombian society," said Jesuit Father Mauricio Garcia Duran. "The pope comes to Colombia in a context of polarization."

The papal visit touches on themes important to the country and church. In the capital, Bogota, Sept. 7, the pope will celebrate a Mass focused on young people, expected to attract more than 1 million attendees.

He travels Sept. 8 to Villavicencio -- gateway to the at-times neglected southern half of Colombia -- where he will pray with 6,000 victims of violence and is expected to call for reconciliation. That call for reconciliation will include a call to reconcile with creation; included in the audience will be indigenous peoples from the Amazon and lands increasingly exploited by mining and natural resource extraction.

The following day, Pope Francis will address clergy and religious in the city of Medellin. He also will visit a Catholic orphanage.

Pope Francis ends his visit to Colombia on the Caribbean coast in the city of Cartagena. There he is expected to address the church's controversial history of trafficking slaves to the New World.

He will also recite the Angelus at a shrine to St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit who worked to stop slavery.

— David Agren, Catholic News Service

Flying to Colombia, pope asks prayers for Venezuela

Flying to Colombia, pope asks prayers for Venezuela

090617 pope planeABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO COLOMBIA — Flying to Colombia, with a flight plan changed to avoid Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean Sea, Pope Francis told reporters that Colombia and its neighbor, Venezuela, were in his prayers.

The Sept. 6-10 visit to Colombia "is a bit special," the pope said, because he is going "to help Colombia go forward in its journey of peace."

As the flight went over Venezuela, Pope Francis sent a telegram to President Nicolas Maduro, sending cordial greetings and "praying that all in the nation may promote paths of solidarity, justice and concord."

Earlier, the pope told reporters that as they crossed Venezuela, "we will say a prayer for Venezuela that it can have dialogue -- dialogue among all -- for the stability of the country."

Venezuela, Colombia's eastern neighbor, has been the scene of protests and severe shortages of food and medicine for months as Maduro has tried to consolidate his power and rewrite the nation's constitution. More than 100 people have died in the protests since April.

Alitalia's original plan for the more than 12-hour flight to Colombia was to cross the Atlantic, then fly over U.S. territorial waters and Puerto Rico, the Antilles and Venezuela before landing in Bogota, Colombia.

As the flight was about to take off, Vatican officials said there had been a change of plans because of Hurricane Irma.

On the eve of the trip, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the visit to Colombia coincides with "the beginning of a process of peace after 50 years of conflict and violence." The pope wants to encourage Colombians "so that after so much mourning, so much destruction, so much suffering, the Colombian people and the Colombian nation can know a new reality of peace and harmony."

The motto of the pope's visit, "Let's take the first step," purposefully uses the plural because "everyone must feel involved in this process, this itinerary, and concretely translate it" into action, the cardinal told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Pope Francis will highlight some of the ways of doing that, he said, by insisting on "the sacredness of life, respect for life always and everywhere, the theme of the dignity of the person, of human rights."

— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service