Peace pilgrimage in Colombia
by Peter Stanford
PEACE was the keynote of the Pope's seven joyful, hectic and trouble-free days in Colombia. Harmony between different ethnic traditions, between north and south, dialogue between guerrillas and government, an end to violence, to land disputes, to unequal distribution of wealth — all these subjects came together in what John Paul himself described as a "pilgrimage of peace".
Over 700,000 people, well in excess of organisers' expectations, packed out an open air Mass in central Bogota on Wednesday to hear Pope John Paul launch an impassioned plea for an end to Colombia's guerrilla war. "I make a vehement call to those who continue on the path of guerrilla warfare to direct their energies — inspired perhaps by ideals of social justice — to constructive and reconciliatory action which really contributes to the progress of the country".
He refused to meet representatives of any of Colombia's four guerrilla groupings, but they maintained a truce during his trip, despite fears of violence before his arrival. Vatican officials quoted the Pontiff's full schedule, security concerns and an opposition to violence as the reasons for his refusal.
On this. his seventh trip to Latin America, the 30th overseas visit in the eight years of his pontificate, John Paul won the hearts of the Colombian people with personal touches like his insistence. at the port of' Tumaco, on entering the metalroofed home of a peasant family against the advice of his security • Left: an armed guard for the Pope in Bogota. guards.
Shrugging off fatigue and the effects of an airline go-slow, the Pope visited 12 cities, including Armero where 23,000 died last November when the Nevado del Ruiz volcano erupted, sending a tidal wave of mud down the mountainside to engulf the town,
Despite warnings from scientists that a further eruption was imminent, Pope John Paul went to the town to pray for the victims.
In the rural town of Chiquinquira he appealed for land reform and a more equal distribution of wealth within Colombia, while in the northern city of Cartagena he condemned those who run Colombia's booming drugs market for introducing this "new and more subtle form of slavery". The Pope had harsh words for international financiers at the start of his trip. Speaking at the presidential palace with its ornate splendours in Bogota, the Pope said that debt obligations on Latin America and developing countries were too great. "The poor populations cannot pay intolerable social costs, sacrificing the right of development which for them remains elusive. while other populations enjoy opulence'. Colombia has a foreign debt of 12.5 billion dollars, modest by Latin American standards, The Pope attacked "harshly tributary economic laws lacking soul and moral criteria" and called for new agreements between north and south on a more "equitable basis.
In the city of Popayan, the Pope urged representatives of Colombia's indigenous Indian population to "struggle in defence of your culture and your Medellin, scene of the historic Latin American Bishops' meeting in 1968 which saw the Church outline its "option for the poor" was the occasion for the Pope to dwell on liberation theology. He warned against Marxism which "considers the poor as a class at war". He urged his audience to "contribute to social liberation, liberation from sin and moral evil that nestles in man's heart".
Social justice could best be achieved, the Pope emphasised, "when interests of a political or ideological character are not mixed in".