Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, second from right, and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, accompany Pope Francis who is greeted by children upon his arrival in Bogota, Colombia, on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
The transformation of the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia into a legal political party marks a historic step in the quest for peace in Colombia, one of the most cultured countries in America but plagued by violence for more than fifty years. There remain many problems; among others, the division between political leaders on the content of the agreement reached.
Logically, not everyone is happy that a group that maintains its principles, and does not drop the adjective “revolutionary” from its description, has 10 legally secured seats in the 2018 elections. It was expected that they would change their name to New Colombia, but the leaders have convinced the founding congress of the party to maintain the acronym FARC, partially modifying its content to signify Commoners' Alternative Revolutionary Force. As Iván Marquez affirmed,
“It may be that for some this name carries a negative charge, but it also represents our revolutionary past, which will not fade away. We will continue the conflict, but now in the arena of politics and law.”
In addition, the legal process that will define the scope of amnesty in its application to individuals is still pending, as agreed after a popular consultation rejected the initial project of Juan Manuel Santos, winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the civil war. On the other hand, it will be necessary to extend the peace effort to other guerrilla groups, of smaller scope, but still not convinced that it is worthwhile to abandon their arms.
Today, when the streets of Madrid are full of propaganda for the Narcos series, one cannot forget another drama of that American nation: drug trafficking, cartels that practice violence – and governments as well, as has just been verified with the death of the number two in the criminal band Clan del Golfo. Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias “Gavilán”, was killed last Thursday, according to the president of Colombia, on Twitter, before offering the details of the operation two days later. Juan Manuel Santos describes it as a great blow against a band dedicated to drug trafficking and extortion, the greatest threat to peace since the signing of the agreement with the FARC guerrillas.
In this context, including the need to continue the battle for justice and solidarity in order to overcome inequalities, Pope Francis is making his apostolic trip to six Colombian cities from September 6 to 11. The motto of this visit is “let's take the first step”, referring to his focus on the process of reconciliation under way after a real war, which also involved paramilitary forces against the rebels at the time.
Every day there will be a different theme, according to Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press room: on September 7, in Bogota, the thread will be “artisans of peace, promoters of life”; on the 8th, in Villavicencio, where the Mass will include the beatification ceremony of two Colombian martyrs (the bishop of Arauca, Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve, and the priest Pedro María Ramírez Ramó) will bring reconciliation with God among Colombians and with nature; on Saturday 9th, in Medellín, will focus on Christians as disciples; on Sunday the 10th, in Cartagena, where St Peter Claver is buried, the Pope will insist on the dignity of the person and human rights. There will be no shortage of effective gestures at the service of the most needy and sick.
As is often the case on the eve of papal travel — at least since John Paul II — the difficulties are emphasized. One correspondent has noted the risk of the Pope being instrumentalised for or against the various positions in society and in the church hierarchy itself, before the peace process. This is an inevitable phenomenon, which recalls reactions not long ago in Spain before the end of ETA terrorism. But experience has shown that bad omens are broken up like soap bubbles in the presence of the Roman Pontiff.
It is understandable that Greg Burke insists on the pastoral and evangelical character of the visit: “The Gospel,” he concluded in a press conference, “calls people to peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. The Pope carries the message of the Gospel, a very relevant message at the moment.”
Salvador Bernal is a columnist for the Spanish website Religion Confidencial, where the original Spanish version of this article was published.