Pope Francis visits Colombia hoping to encourage peace

Pope Francis' visit to Colombia, its first papal visit since 1986, marks the first of a 5 day trip, during which he will try to bring a divided nation together, in the name of peace

7 September 2017, 11:29am
A painting of Pope Francis in Villavicencio, Colombia. Francis arrives in the country on Wednesday. Photo: the NY Times
A painting of Pope Francis in Villavicencio, Colombia. Francis arrives in the country on Wednesday. Photo: the NY Times
Pope Francis arrived in Colombia on Wednesday for the first papal visit since 1986. This visit marks the first of a 5-day trip during which he will try to bring a divided nation together, in the name of peace.

The pope’s Alitalia jet touched down at a military base near Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport and was greeted by President Juan Manuel Santos, his wife and the Vatican’s representative in Bogota.

Santos has made it a prime focus of his presidency that a peace agreement, signed in December with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest of several mainly leftist rebel forces, that have been at war with the government since the 1960s.

The peace deal was brought to a close following 52 years of conflict, but its concessions to the rebels have brought about divisions in Colombian society, between those attempting to forgive the violence of the past and those who believe the agreement’s terms are too generous.

Pope Francis supported the peace initiative strongly. This week, a Vatican spokesman said that the pope has wanted to visit Colombia for a long time, with the world’s third largest population of Roman Catholics, but waited till peace negotiations were completed before visiting.

In a video message broadcast this week on Colombian TV, Francis said he arrived as “a pilgrim of hope and peace”, commenting that he is “making the first step” as the church is “called to the task of promoting reconciliation”.

He was met by children from across Colombia, instead of the usual military honour guard which is summoned to greet visiting heads of state. He then met with wounded veterans of the police and military to the strains of classical music played by the Bogota Philharmonic Orchestra.

Francis then boarded an open pope mobile for the 8 mile drive to the Vatican ambassador’s residence to spend the night.

His formal agenda was to begin on Thursday morning, with a meeting in the city centre with government officials as well as civil society groups.

On Friday, he is expected to fly to Villavicencio, capital of Meta province, where he will conduct mass and preach reconciliation. He will also plead for respect of the environment, which has long been a concern of his papacy.

On Saturday, the pope will be visiting Medellin, where he is expected to encourage youths to take up missionary work as well as other religious vocations. He will say mass at Olaya Herrera international airport, which is said to be planning on accommodating for crowds of up to 1 million people.

His trip will end in Cartagena, the walled city that was a centre of Spanish colonial rule. Ina  symbolic gesture, he will pay homage to Colombia’s first saint, Pedro Claver, who like Francis, is a Jesuit.