Pope Francis greets a sick child near the Talitha Qum homeless shelter in Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 10. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Priests buoyed by Francis the pastor

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  • September 17, 2017

After a quarter million dead, six million driven from their homes and 50 years of violence, what Colombia needed was a pastor, not a politician, said Colombian-born Toronto pastor Fr. Carlos Augusto Sierra Tobon.

And that’s what they got with Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the South American country, Tobon added.

“He didn’t appear to take sides. He took the side of morals and the Gospel,” Tobon told The Catholic Register as Pope Francis was returning to Rome Sept. 11. “That is what we expect from him.”

While the Pope did not endorse the peace agreement between the Colombian government and its main guerrilla adversary, he strongly urged Colombians to undertake a personal process of reconciliation within their families, with their neighbours and between communities.

“Only if we help untie the knots of violence will we unravel the complex threads of disagreements,” Francis told close to one million people gathered in the seaside city of Cartagena. “If Colombia wants a stable and lasting peace, it must urgently take a step in this direction.”

Francis’ neutrality on the peace agreement is in line with the decision of Colombia’s conference of Catholic bishops. The agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (generally known by the Spanish acronym FARC) was narrowly defeated in a referendum last year. A modified pact was later passed by the Colombian senate.

But the deal remains deeply unpopular with many conservative Catholics and the increasingly powerful Evangelicals. Fearful of turbocharging the ongoing flight of Catholics into Evangelical churches, Colombia’s Catholic bishops — themselves divided on the issue — decided against taking a position.

Whatever one thinks of the political deal that will transform the FARC into a political party with a guaranteed 10 seats in the next Congress, there’s no denying that Colombians need reconciliation and healing, said Basilian Anderson Usuga- Giraldo, who is studying for the priesthood in Colombia.

“The Pope sowed the tree of reconciliation,” Usuga-Giraldo said in an email to The Catholic Register.

Usuga-Giraldo was in the crowd for the Pope’s Mass in Bogota, where he saw Pope Francis encourage young people to build trust and hope in their country

“We are many Catholics, but few of us have followed the teaching of Jesus,” said Usuga-Giraldo. “We find it difficult to forgive. The country is polarized. We want peace, but we do little to achieve it.”

Everything about the Pope’s visit revolved around reconciliation, he said. “He wanted to visit us, to help us as a good shepherd to find peace – first with ourselves, with the family, with the neighbours and as a country.”

It was the first visit by a pope to the world’s seventh- largest Catholic country in 30 years. About 70 per cent of Colombia’s 48 million people are Catholic, but its Evangelical-Pentecostal population is growing at a rate of six per cent a year and constitutes as much as 14 per cent of Colombians.

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