Colombian Bishop Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya of Buenaventura rides atop a fire truck during a protest against growing drug violence Feb. 10. The bishop boarded the fire truck to spray the town’s main street with holy water and help to “cleanse it” of evil. CNS photo/courtesy Diocese of Buenaventura

Bishop ‘cleanses’ Colombian city

By  Manuel Rueda, Catholic News Service
  • February 18, 2021

BOGOTA, Colombia -- The bishop of a Colombian city suffering from a deadly spike in drug violence boarded a fire truck to spray the town’s main street with holy water and help to “cleanse it” of evil.

Bishop Rubén Jaramillo Montoya performed the gesture Feb. 10 during a protest against violence in Buenaventura, a city of about half a million people on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

Thousands of local residents, dressed in white and wearing face masks, also formed a 19-km-long human chain that crossed most of the city.

“This is a way of acknowledging that there is evil in this city, but that we want it to leave,” Jaramillo said. “We are also imploring the people in gangs to leave their weapons behind.”

Buenaventura is Colombia’s main port on the Pacific Ocean, which has long made the city a coveted spot for drug traffickers, who ship cocaine to Central America and the United States.

Fighting between gangs increased in January as new players like the National Liberation Army guerrillas and Mexican drug cartels try to get a foothold in the area. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, the surge in violence doubled the city’s homicide rate in January and forced 400 people to leave their homes.

In a bid to pressure Colombia’s government to respond more effectively to the situation, in February residents of Buenaventura staged protests, backed by the diocese.

“We need schemes that will generate employment opportunities for youth, support those who want to open their businesses, and we also need more funding for culture, education and sports,” said youth leader Leonard Renteria.

According to a survey conducted by Colombia’s government in 2017, 66 per cent of Buenaventura’s residents live in poverty and 90 per cent work in the informal economy.

Jaramillo said the socioeconomic situation makes it easier for gangs to recruit young people and rule over the city’s poorest parts.

The situation has also affected a project run by the diocese, which is trying to build homes for 40 impoverished families.

“We’ve had workers abandon the construction sites because they get threats,” Jaramillo explained. “In some neighbourhoods, we have also been asked to pay gangs if we want to continue building.”

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