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Pope Asks Colombia To Reject Revenge -- WSJ

9 Sep 2017 6:32 am
By Juan Forero and Kejal Vyas 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (September 9, 2017).

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia -- Pope Francis, speaking Friday in a swath of cattle country that was an epicenter of this country's long civil conflict, told 6,000 war victims assembled before him to discard any desires for revenge and forgive those who caused them harm.

"Even when conflicts, violence and feelings of vengeance remain, may we not prevent justice and mercy from embracing Colombia's painful history, " the pontiff said, standing on a stage in this stifling hot city on the edge of the country's great plains. "Let us heal that pain and welcome every person who has committed offenses, who admits their failure, is repentant and truly wants to make reparations."

The pontiff spoke before victims chosen by the Catholic Church and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos, which operates a special unit that addresses the needs of an estimated 6.6 million people who lost loved ones, were forced off land, held hostage or otherwise victimized in a guerrilla war that lasted a half-century. Pope Francis urged combatants to divulge information on missing persons, child-soldier recruitment and sexual crimes against women as part of a peace pact the state signed with the FARC rebel group last year.

"Truth is an inseparable companion of justice and mercy," Pope Francis said, adding that it would lead to reconciliation and forgiveness, themes central to the pontiff's 5-day trip to Colombia, which ends Sunday night. Indeed, Rodrigo Londoño, who led the FARC, which last week transformed itself into a political party, made public on Thursday night a letter he sent the pontiff asking for forgiveness.

"Your repeated displays of God's infinite mercy moves me to plead for your pardon for any tears or pain that we had caused the people of Colombia," Mr. Londoño wrote.

The victims who came to the prayer service here represented people victimized by all of the main armed groups in Colombia's conflict, from two leftist rebel groups to their adversaries, a now-defunct right-wing paramilitary organization and the country's military. Some had lost limbs to land mines. Others had been forced to flee their land because of combat. Women raped by combatants attended, as did victims of kidnapping, once a scourge.

The pope listened intently to victims and those who had caused untold violence. Four people -- one a former guerrilla, another a woman who had been a paramilitary fighter, a mother who had stepped on a land mine and an elderly woman whose father was slain -- told the pontiff about the violence that had long marked their lives. All four now work with their communities.

"I discovered I couldn't keep living full of hate," said Luz Dary Landazury, who had told the pontiff about her painful, lengthy recovery after stepping on a land mine.

Pope Francis, minutes later, said, "I am moved listening to them."

"They are stories of suffering and anguish," he said, "but also, and above all, they are stories of love and forgiveness."

Speaking to the two former combatants who had recounted their once violent lives, the pontiff said that they too had been victims, whether "innocent or guilty" of having done harm. "We are all united in this loss of humanity that means violence and death," the pontiff said.

Pope Francis spoke to the victims on a stage, before a black statue of Jesus Christ that had been badly damaged in 2002 in Bojaya, an Afro-Colombian hamlet in the middle of the jungle. The statue had then been in Bojaya's church when it was hit by a rebel rocket in the midst of combat, killing at least 79 people who had sought safety from the violence.

"This image has a powerful symbolic and spiritual value," the pope said of the statue, which he blessed. "As we look at it, we remember not only what happened on that day, but also the immense suffering, the many deaths and broken lives, and all the blood spilt in Colombia these past decades."

One of the residents from Bojaya who had traveled here with 15 others from that hamlet was 30-year-old Jose de la Cruz, who had lost three relatives in the church bombing. Mr. de la Cruz and the others had brought the damaged statue to the event on Friday and said they hoped the pontiff's visit would be a fitting end to years of violence.

"Hopefully," he said, "all sides of this armed conflict can come to an agreement and allow us to live in peace."

Write to Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com and Kejal Vyas at kejal.vyas@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 09, 2017 02:32 ET (06:32 GMT)

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