In his 40 plus years as a bishop in Colombia, Archbishop José de Jesús Pimiento Rodríguez did many extraordinary things. He attended all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council—he is in fact one of the few remaining fathers of the council—and supported its implementation in Colombia.
Cardinal Pimiento was also a delegate to the 1968 General Conference of the Latin American Bishops at Medellín, Colombia, which called for the church to make a “preferential option for the poor,” and again to its conferences in 1979 at Puebla, Mexico, and in 1992 at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Between 1972 and 1978 he was twice elected president of the Episcopal Conference in Colombia and worked with the Holy See on the reform of its Concordat with Colombia in 1973, which gave the almost-entirely Catholic state more autonomy from the church.
Over 20 years as Archbishop of Manizales in south-central Colombia, Cardinal Pimiento was outspoken about corruption, calling the country “morally sick, [as] step by step corruption and lies have taken power in the political arena.” Drug trafficking, he said in 1996, “has darkened the moral conscience of many Colombians, destroying the basic values of rectitude.”
He was also known for his attention to poor and marginalized communities. When the Nevado del Ruis Volcano erupted in 1985, he provided over a hundred homes for its victims. And when he himself retired, he asked to be sent to Urabá, a missionary region where there was serious paramilitary activity. When a friend warned him Urabá dangerous, the then-Archbishop insisted, “My life belongs to God, not to men.”
Ninety-six years old today, when the cardinal first became a bishop in 1955, he chose as his episcopal motto from Philippians 1:21: Vivere Christus Est—“For me, To Live is Christ.” Yet in his career he was known for another motto, as well: “A priest must live as simply as his people.”
How do you feel about being named cardinal? How has your family reacted?
I feel overwhelmed by the honor that is given to me. I am not someone who enjoys honors ... I see it as a duty and a service that I must pay even though I'm already physically limited in my ability to provide important services to the church. I offer the Lord this dignity that the church gives me to be for the glory of the Lord, only for the glory of Him.
What do you hope for the church today?
I hope that the church hears well the prophetic advice that the Supreme Pontiff is giving to revitalize and enhance the life of the church in the New Evangelization. We really were so entrenched in our ecclesial world; we were not projecting ourselves onto today’s world from the perspective of the Gospel.
What is one message you feel the church should be offering to today’s world?
To insist that the Gospel is not an ideology or a philosophy, but a way of life. It is because we are not practicing the Gospel that we are as we are today, with violence, with frightening corruption, with disorders of all kinds. It is the living Gospel that we must apply, as the Supreme Pontiff has been doing. We need to renew preaching, catechesis, in order to form believers who are animated and strong for the battle for renewal of a humanity which is very lost, so empty of God and which needs some courageous messages; people who are willing to be firm and to change significantly the Christian and human errors of the world.
What are the most pressing issues facing your region and community?
In Colombia we are facing dubious policies about what the world of politics should be. It should not be about serving oneself, but the common good. This is a general problem of the nations and in Colombia as well. We need to wake up so that human and Christian values may be sustained, affirmed and presented with a language that is appropriate for the present time. But we must do it always bravely, decisively, clearly so that humanity can find the proper course that our continent needs… with a South American Supreme Pontiff, it is a church that makes known the light of the Gospel, which is only for the good of humanity.
Here in Colombia we are on a national path that is called “Towards Peace,” but it’s still not sufficiently clear how it is being played out. We need that this peace process may be built on common ground that is good for the nation and not built on weakness, not built out of a simplistic pacifism but built on the true peace which is the peace of Christ. Because the political establishment is not capable of providing the appropriate answers; what is needed is a return to the values of the Gospel in the peace process, so that peace may be achieved for the good of Colombia.
What have your many years of work taught you about God and the church?
I tried to apply Vatican II to the churches, parishes and dioceses, since I had participated in the sessions of Vatican II concerning pastoral ministry. I was also an adviser to the papal Nuncio in Colombia to address the  reform of the Corcordat between Colombia and Holy See. I would say that reform was a task for the common good; I tried to do the very best I could. Therefore, you can see a humble demonstration of my desire to serve the holy church.
What’s an image of God, passage from Scripture or figure from Church history that you look to for support and encouragement?
My episcopal coat of arms was “For me to live is Christ” from St. Paul, which I wanted to translate to practical life, though I know I often failed. However, it was for me the motto of my life. The mystery of the Incarnation moves me because it is the mystery of a God who comes to us, who offers us complete salvation. It is the great gift, fulfilled in the Eucharist.
In the history of the church St. Augustine really impressed me because I began my episcopate on a day in which we commemorated Saint Augustine. For me he is a very important spiritual giant. Also Saint Thomas Aquinas. And in my episcopal life Blessed Paul VI was a very valuable inspiration to love the church and serve the common good of the Church with fidelity.
Finally: What are your hopes for next October’s Synod?
The most acute crisis of humanity is that the family has disintegrated and faces big challenges. The goal in the synod is to make sure that the Gospel is well understood as well as the situation of the family. Our task is the rebuilding the source of life which is the family, the place where faith is first planted in order to make it a guide light of life.