“Reconciliation is not an abstract word”
Pope Francis told Colombians as he celebrated Mass in the city of Villavicencio, and he appealed to them to open a door to “every person who has experienced the tragic reality of conflict” because, he said, “when victims overcome the temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace”.
The Pope’s words came during a Beatification Mass celebrated in the Colombian town which is seen as a symbolic model for reconciliation.
Villavicencio, at the heart of an area which was once besieged by rebels, overwhelmingly backed the President’s peace plan and has taken the step of welcoming back the FARC whose leaders have pleaded for forgiveness and launched a development project.
The Mass comes on the second day of Francis’ visit to Colombia which is cantered on the theme “Reconciliation with God, among Colombians and with Nature.”
And the two Catholic priests beatified during the ceremony – Bishop Jesus Jaramillo and Father Pedro Ramirez – are intimately identified with Colombia’s conflict and provide strong testimonies in a nation in desperate need of forgiveness and healing.
Both of them, Pope Francis said, are “a sign of the expression of a people who wish to rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness,” a sign of the closeness of the Gospel and of the Church to its people.
Pope Francis’s call to Colombians to overcome what he called the “understandable” temptation of vengeance is key to the divided country’s reconstruction as is the inclusion of the many groups of victims of the conflict in the government’s plan for a peaceful future.
That’s why some 112 different communities of indigenous people were present as were thousands of victims from all walks of life.
The Pope’s beautiful homily included other key themes for reconciliation including the need to overcome chauvinistic attitudes towards women.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day, Francis said it is a powerful commentary of a world in which “psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident.”
Overcoming that violence, he said, is also key to the sort of full reconciliation that recovery from conflict requires.
And perhaps, most poignant of all was his call to reconcile with a “weeping” environment. Villavicencio is the door to the Colombian Amazon rainforest, home to many of the displaced or threatened indigenous communities and to the nation’s rich and wonderful natural heritage.
Quoting from his own encyclical “Laudato Sì” and from a Colombian songwriter he described the trees as weeping witnesses to so many years of violence and said that “the violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in water, in air, in all forms of life”.”
Saying “yes” to reconciliation – Pope Francis concluded – means saying “yes” with Mary and singing with her the wonders of the Lord who wishes Colombia to be reconciled: “a promise made also to its descendents forever”.