Pope Francis Visits Colombia
By Margarita Mendoza, El Observador Editor
September 14, 2017

By Margarita Mendoza, El Observardor Editor

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia—For the third time in its 207 years of existence, Colombia received a visit from a pope.

In 1968, Colombia was the first Latin-American country to be visted by a pope when Pope Paul VI arrived. Then in 1986 the country welcomed St. John Paul II, and from Sept. 6 to 10, Catholics in Colombia welcomed Pope Francis.

In the days before and after the Pope’s visit, he was the main topic of conversations. TV channels were covering the visit almost 24 hours a day, following him in every step and every detail, and in the radio and written media, pieces were dedicated to the pontiff’s visit.

The cities he visited were filled with banners, posters and even flags with the Vatican colors of yellow and white, flying from windows of houses, private and government buildings, and of course, in Catholic parishes as a symbol of welcome to the Bishop of Rome.

The Holy Father’s visit almost eclipsed major weather events like the earthquakes in Mexico and Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and Florida.

Unlike the usual daily reports, the Colombian media didn’t focus on tragic incidents in the country. The big coverage was about the accident Pope Francis had when he hit his face against the popemobile while he tried to greet a child. Fortunately the pope was strong and continued his trip full of energy.

Pope Francis was escorted at all times by his security guards, members of the Presidency of the Republic, the police and some sections of the army and even the air force.

“Colombia ranks second in the world in terms of biodiversity,” the pope said in a meeting with authorities, the Diplomatic Corps and representatives of civil society, in Bogota, on the second day of his visit.

“Travelling through this land one can taste and see how good the Lord has been,” he continued, referring to Psalm 33:9, “in bestowing such immense variety of flora and fauna in the rainforests, the Paramos, the Choco region, the Farallones of Cali and mountain ranges like the Macarena, and in so many other places.

“Equally vibrant is the culture of this nation,” he said. “But above all, Colombia is rich in the human value of its people, men and women with a welcoming and generous heart, courageous and determined in the face of obstacles.”

Paola Lozano, a mother of two, explained her country’s history, saying that for more than 50 years it has been living an internal conflict, “mostly with the Marxists terrorist group denominated FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). They have been kidnapping, murdering and spreading terror in the country, not to mention devastating natural resources. Now (FARC) became a political group after negotiations in Cuba with the Colombian government.

“It didn’t matter that the majority of Colombian people in a plebiscite voted no, as symbol of disapprobation of the result of the ... negotiations,” she said.

“Still the government ignored the will of the people and has continued with the negotiations, providing the armed group with money and a lot of undeserved privileges such as automatic positions in the Senate,” she added.

“Today, the country remains polarized between the people that support the Havana negotiations called by the government ‘Peace Process,’...” said Mirto Garcia who traveled from Bogota to see the pope.

“The majority of Colombians are against” the agreement, Garcia continued. “We don’t trust FARC, they are terrorists and have not shown real regret about what they did. They still have tons of illegal money (to buy souls, and for their new political party), power in some important areas, even control over illegal drugs, and they have destroyed rivers and nature with illegal mining.

“We are afraid they got what they have been looking for for decades, the political power. On top of that, we do still have some issues with other guerillas and paramilitary groups,” Garcia said.

But, this polarization was reduced during the pope’s visit. Catholic News Service reported the theme of his trip was “Let’s take the first step,” and Pope Francis told reporters he hoped that, after he left, Colombians would take a second step.

Around 7 million Colombians participated in his caravans and Masses in Bogota, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena. Thousands waited long hours through the night, and even in the rain, on the side of the road where the popemobile was scheduled to pass, just to see him and receive his blessing.

Out of those millions, just a small group was able to surround him in different cities, one of whom was Stella Solarte, a flight attendant of Avianca, who has worked 20 years for the company.

“It is an honor to me to have the Holy Father with us. (The) first thing I would say is, ‘Welcome aboard!’...”

Carlos Perdomo, is a policeman who worked very close to Pope Francis in Villavicencio.

“About four to five meters from him ... I could feel that he glows. He has something special that not everybody has. Although it was raining, it was a very nice experience where I was able to find out for myself that he is a different kind of person, he is someone that has something special,” he said.

The pope’s words were full of deep messages. He told the people, “Colombia, open your heart as the People of God and be reconciled. Fear neither the truth nor justice.

“Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it,” he said. “Do not resist that reconciliation which allows you to draw near and encounter one another as brothers and sisters, and surmount enmity.

“Now is the time to heal wounds, to build bridges, to overcome differences. It is time to defuse hatred, to renounce vengeance, and to open yourselves to a coexistence founded on justice, truth, and the creation of a genuine culture of fraternal encounter.

“May we live in harmony and solidarity, as the Lord desires,”  he said at Parque Las Malocas in Villavicencio.