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Pope Francis greets young people prior to Mass at Simon Bolivar Park in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis is in Colombia from Sept. 6-11 and America is covering the events on the ground. For coverage of yesterday's events, click here.

Defend life, promote peace, pope tells Colombians

At a Mass attended by 1.3 million people in Simon Bolivar Park, Bogota, today, there was an atmosphere of joy and great enthusiasm in response to the pope’s call to join together as disciples of Jesus and become “artisans of peace, promoters of life.”

In spite of the rain, many young people began arriving at 2:00 a.m. yesterday in order to be sure to reserve a spot. It was raining, too, when the press arrived 24 hours later. But when Pope Francis reached this massive green park, the sun came out again and the crowd cheered. 

With the rain gone, Francis drove among the crowd for half an hour in his popemobile, sparking ecstatic responses and scenes of delight. There were hundreds of thousands of young people in the crowd and they jumped and waved scarves or flags.  There also were many people from Venezuela. At the end of Mass, the pope briefly met the two Venezuelan cardinals and three bishops from that country, which is in great crisis, and which he is following closely.

In his homily, Pope Francis spoke about how large numbers of people came to hear Jesus and how, near the sea of Galilee, he called the first disciples. Jesus’ words changed their lives, he said, just as it has the power to convert hearts today.

Then, applying this Gospel story to the local crowd, Francis said that “here, too, the crowds come together, longing for a word of life” because although “they dwell in a land of unimaginable fertility, which could provide for everyone” they experience “a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life.”  They experience “the darkness of injustice and social inequality; 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 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 reminded his vast audience that “Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness with the command he gives to Peter” to “put out into the deep sea.” Likewise, today, he said, Jesus passes through Colombia and calls its inhabitants “to cast out into the deep,”—to take risks for peace and reconciliation, and for the defense of human life at all stages of existence.

“Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness with the command he gives to Peter” to “put out into the deep sea.”

But he reminded them that the people of Colombia and the church in this land, “like Peter,” know what it means “to work without success.” But in such situations, he told them, they too must be like Peter and be “able to trust the Master.”

He told the crowd that, if Colombians listen to the Word of God, then from these “evangelized multitudes” there will arise many men and women who will follow Jesus and become “capable of loving life in all its phases” and of joining together able “to see each other again as brothers and sisters, companions on the way, partners in this common cause which is the homeland.”

He concluded by telling the crowd that Jesus “prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him; to give up our fears which do not come from God, which paralyze us and prevent us becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life.”

Although the organizers asked for silence and no applause or raising of flags during the Mass, the massive crowd burst into spontaneous applause when Pope Francis finished speaking. It was clear that he had reached their hearts with his message. President Juan Manuel Santos was right this morning when he told the pope that the people of Colombia “want to hear your words, like a parched land wants water.”

On Friday, Sept. 8, they will hear even more from him when he visits the city of Villavicencio to join in a service for peace and reconciliation and meet victims from both sides of the conflict.

Gerard O'Connell


Build peace as pastors, not politicians, Francis tells Colombian bishops

“I have come to proclaim Christ and to undertake a journey of peace and reconciliation in his name,” Pope Francis said in a powerful keynote speech to Colombia’s 130 bishops.

The pope knows that the bishops are divided over Colombia’s peace process, as the discussion on the peace accords has shown. He appealed to them to be united so that the church in this country can throw its full weight behind peace-building and creating a culture that promotes reconciliation. In a highly significant statement, he told them: “Many people can help with the challenges facing this nation, but your mission is unique. You are not mechanics or politicians but pastors. Christ is the word of reconciliation written on your hearts.”

“You are not mechanics or politicians but pastors. Christ is the word of reconciliation written on your hearts.”

Welcomed by Cardinal Ruben Salazar in the cardinal’s palace, Francis delivered a long talk in which, among other things, he praised this nation’s “characteristic fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and to his church and, above all, its indomitable courage in resisting threats of death not merely proclaimed but often experienced at first hand.”

The pope recalled how Paul VI came here after the Second Vatican Council “to encourage the collegial realization of the mystery of the church in Latin America” and that St. John Paul II visited in 1986. Francis said their words “are a lasting resource” for their ministry as bishops. “I wish that everything I say to you may be received in continuity with their teachings,” he added.

Recalling the theme of his visit (“Let us take the first step”), he reminded them that “God goes before us. We are only branches, not the vine...so do not silence the voice of the One who has called you or delude yourselves into thinking that the success of the mission entrusted to you depends on your own meager virtues or the benevolence of the powers that be.” Instead, he said, “Pray fervently when you have so little to give, so that you will be granted something to offer to those who are close to your hearts as pastors.”

He urged them to take the first step in every aspect of their ministry as bishops and explained that this demands of them “a constant exterior exodus.” He quoted St. Augustine’s words: “There is no mightier invitation to love than to anticipate in loving.”

Firmly but gently, he told the bishops to “continue to seek communion among yourselves.”

“Never tire of building it through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the plague. Make every effort to take the first step, trying to understand each other’s way of thinking. Allow yourselves to be enriched by what others can offer you and build a church that can offer this country an eloquent witness of the progress that can be made when things are not left in the hands of a small group.”

Firmly but gently, he told the bishops to “continue to seek communion among yourselves.”

Colombia, he said, “needs that watchfulness, proper to you as bishops, to sustain its courage in taking the first step toward definitive peace and reconciliation, toward abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering.” This “watchfulness,” he said, “is needed for renouncing the easy yet irreversible path of corruption and for patiently persevering in the construction of a res publica capable of combatting poverty and inequality.”

Francis told the Colombian bishops: “All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of moral courage. War follows the basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves.”

He encouraged them “to strive to make your churches wombs of light, capable of giving birth, even amid great poverty, to the new children that this land needs.”

Francis reminded the bishops that the church “has no need for alliances with this or that party, but only the freedom to speak to the heart of every man and woman. There, they are free to face their anxieties; there, they can find the strength to change the course of their lives.”

“I want to encourage you to be more and more a church on mission.”

Speaking as a pastor and bishop of Rome, he said, “I want to encourage you to be more and more a church on mission.” The pope urged the bishops to reach out to Colombia’s families, to defend life from conception to natural death, to confront the scourge of violence and alcoholism, and the weakening of the marriage bond and the absence of fathers. He encouraged them to give special attention to young people “threatened by spiritual emptiness and seeking to escape through drug use, frivolous lifestyles and a rebellious spirit.”

Pope Francis called on the bishops to help the church in Amazonia, which is facing great challenges. “Amazonia is for all of us a decisive test whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit,” he said.  

Since the pope has come to Bogota, more than one million people have turned out to greet him enthusiastically and to encourage him, and when he finished speaking the bishops followed suit by giving him a warm standing ovation.

Gerard O'Connell


‘Dare to dream big,’ Pope Francis tells Colombia’s young people

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

“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.”

Living in a country at war, experiencing poverty or broken homes, seeing peers give into drug addiction—all those things make young people understand 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.

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.

“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.”

Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service


Peace demands ‘the commitment of everyone’

“Seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a relentless task, which demands the commitment of everyone,” Pope Francis said in his first major speech in Colombia. The pope pleaded with this majority Catholic nation of 49 million people to finally break with the country’s violent past and to work with determination for reconciliation and peace.

“There has been too much hatred and vengeance,” he told 750 political, civic and religious leaders as well as members of the diplomatic corps, addressing them in the Plaza de Armas della Casa del Narino in front of the presidential palace in the historic center of Bogota.

“The solitude of always being at loggerheads has been familiar for decades, and its smell has lingered for a hundred years; we do not want any type of violence whatsoever to restrict or destroy one more life,” he said.

“Seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a relentless task, which demands the commitment of everyone.”

He was referring first and foremost to the 260,000 killed, 60,000 missing and seven million displaced in the armed conflict between the FARC and government forces since 1964, but he was also recalling the eight million people killed in conflict since Colombia gained its independence in 1819.

“I have wanted to come here to tell you that you are not alone, that there are many of us who accompany you in taking this step,” he said. And he told them that his visit “intends to offer you an incentive, a contribution that in some way paves the path to reconciliation and peace.”

He praised “all the efforts undertaken over the last decades to end armed violence and to seek out paths of reconciliation,” and the “significant progress” that has been made over the past year “that give rise to hope” and the conviction that “seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a task which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone.” He was referring to the peace accords between the government and the FARC knowing that they still are a political solution has a low level of public support.

He appealed to Colombia’s leaders “not to weaken” the “efforts to build the unity of the nation,” and he encouraged them “to persevere in the struggle to promote a culture of encounter” despite the “obstacles, differences and varying perspectives on the way to achieve peaceful coexistence.”

His words appeared to refer especially to the political polarization that is now the major obstacle to the peace process. The leader of the opposition to the peace accords, former President Álvaro Uribe, in a letter to the pope made public yesterday, blamed President Juan Manuel Santos’s government for the increase in violence and drug trafficking and said he would not attend today’s gathering.

Pope Francis reminded the Colombian authorities that the task of peace-making “requires us to place at the center of all political, social and economic activity the human person, who enjoys the highest dignity, and respect for the common good.”

The search for peace, he said, requires that everyone “flee from the temptation to vengeance and the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests.”

Moreover, he said, the more arduous the path to peace, “the greater must be our efforts to acknowledge each other, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and support one another.”

The more arduous the path to peace, “the greater must be our efforts to acknowledge each other, to heal wounds, to build bridges.”

The first Latin American pope called for “just laws” in Colombia, ones that can “ensure harmony” and “help overcome the conflicts that have torn apart this nation for decades.” He said, “laws are required, which are not born from the pragmatic need to order society but rather arise from the desire to resolve the structural causes of poverty that lead to exclusion and violence.” This is the only path to heal “the sickness that brings fragility and lack of dignity to society, leaving it always vulnerable to new crises,” he said. And he reminded everyone that “inequality is the root of social ills.”

He encouraged the authorities “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.”

Pope Francis appealed directly to government authorities: “Please, I ask you, listen to the cry of the poor” and “the inhabitants of the remotest regions, the campesinos” and to recognize women and the contribution they make. “Colombia needs the participation of all so as to face the future with hope,” he stated.

In this context, he cited the example of St. Peter Claver who gave his life caring for the slaves that were brought here from Africa, whose relics he will venerate on Sunday.

Francis concluded by assuring the Colombian authorities that “the church is committed to peace, justice and the good of all” and is conscious “that the principles of the Gospel are a significant dimension of the social fabric of Colombia, and thus can contribute greatly to the growth of the country.”

He delivered his speech in the open air, under a clear sky and blazing sun after a formal welcome ceremony at which the Vatican and Colombian anthems were played and a totally informal one given by children who, breaking protocol, gathered around him much to his delight. He hugged many of them and in his speech praised their spontaneity.

President Santos thanked Pope Francis for coming to Colombia “at this unique moment in its history.”

At the ceremony’s end, in a brief welcome address, President Santos thanked Pope Francis for coming to Colombia “at this unique moment in its history” as it takes the first step to reconciliation and peace. He told the pope that Colombia has become “the only country in the world today to exchange guns for words.” He thanked Francis for his encouragement throughout the peace process and said that, as Colombia now seeks to build peace, “it needs your words like a parched land needs water.”

Francis began his speech by thanking President Santos, last year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for his kind invitation to visit this land “at a particularly important moment in its history.” He extended his greeting to all Colombians, very many of whom were following on live television, radio or social media, and whom he would also address in an hour.

Like his predecessors, Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II, who came in 1968 and 1986 respectively, Francis said he, too, has come “moved by the desire to share with my Colombian brothers and sisters the gift of faith,” which has strong roots in this land, and “the hope which beats in the hearts of everyone.”

He told them that it is “only by means of faith and hope” that the obstacles to building a country that is a home for all Colombians can be done.

Pope Francis: “You are in my prayers. I pray for you, for Colombia’s present and future.”

He sought to renew Colombians’ pride in their homeland by reminding them of the immense beauty and richness of this land, which ranks second in the world for its biodiversity, exemplified by the “variety of flora and fauna in the rainforests, the Páramos, the Chocó region, the farallones of Cali and mountain ranges.”

Likewise, he praised the country’s “vibrant” culture and above all, “the human value of its people, men and women with a welcoming and generous heart, courageous and determined in the face of obstacles.”

He concluded by telling them: “You are in my prayers. I pray for you, for Colombia’s present and future.”

Gerard O'Connell

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