In the words of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Ettore Balestrero peace, reconciliation and social justice will be important themes during the Holy Father’s visit to Colombia. “It is the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Colombia. Everything is open. The Colombians will be the authors of this new chapter. They will write it with the decisions they take.”
In an interview with the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) the Apostolic Nuncio asked for a prayer to be said: “I want to encourage you to ask God for the Holy Father’s enlightenment. Pray for the Pope to open the hearts of all the people so that the Lord will find them ready to receive his message and to renew their lives after the visit.”
Talking to ACN the Apostolic Nuncio in Colombia described the imminent visit of Pope Francis to this Latin American country as the “visit of a friend”. Archbishop Ettore Balestrero emphasized that the Pope “like all friends of the Colombians will ask some searching questions: What are you doing with your life? Are you really happy? What is the meaning of what you do?” Regarding earlier Papal trips to Colombia he said: “The journey made by John Paul II 31 years ago was the visit of a father. The journey of Paul VI in 1968 was somewhat like the visit of a teacher from afar. These were among the very first Papal journeys. The journey of Pope Francis from 6 to 10 September is taking the form of a visit by a friend – a friend who is, of course, a father and a teacher, but first and foremost a friend. Since he is from Latin America himself, he knows Colombia. He understands the Colombian way.”
The towns Francis will visit include not only the internationally famous ones – Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena – but also Villavicencio on the eastern plain. No Pope has ever been there. The town is located in an area which was the scene of many armed conflicts between FARC guerrillas and paramilitary units. In view of the peace process currently underway in the country, the Archbishop stressed the significance of the Papal visit at a historically crucial time: “Although a number of legal and social aspects still have to be definitively dealt with, Colombia is in the process of closing a chapter of its history. At the same time a new chapter is beginning in which everything is open. The Colombians will themselves be the authors of this new chapter. They will write it with the decisions they take. Colombia can adopt the positive sides of western culture and modern societies. But it can also fall prey to the contradictions and weaknesses of these societies.” In the words of Archbishop Balestreros the Holy Father is coming as a “pilgrim of faith, hope and reconciliation to a country which is passing through a transitional stage in many respects, and not only on account of the peace process”. It’s of crucial importance “to rebuild a reconciled country where the citizens love and respect one another, and where they show respect of God and other people.”
In the interview the Archbishop described the Colombian people as “very warm, enterprising and diligent”. He also talked about the major social rift in Colombia. “There are people starving while others throw away food.” In this context he talked about the contrasts between highly developed cities – such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla – and other regions in the country where people live who own practically nothing. “The Holy Father,” the Archbishop explained, “is the father of the rich and the poor. But he is coming here to remind us that Colombia needs the contribution of all. In his language and what he proclaims the Pope plays special emphasis on those who suffer. We cannot live under the same heaven and fail to recognise the other reality as through it didn’t exist.” With this in mind the Apostolic Nuncio used the interview to “thank ACN for its help in enlightening Colombians, in opening their eyes to suffering and to the other Colombia” as well as “for its efforts in ensuring that the Pope’s message reaches the whole country, and especially the marginal areas”.
Finally the Italian Archbishop issued an invitation “to join in the prayers and to sacrifice to God something we find difficult to do without, thus ensuring the success of the Pope’s visit”. After all, its success depends on God, as does everything in the Church. “I want to encourage you to ask God for the Holy Father’s enlightenment. Pray for the Pope to open the hearts of all the people so that the Lord will find them ready to receive his message and to renew their lives after the visit.”