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The Pope in Colombia. Msgr. Urbina Ortega (President of Colombian Bishops): “A great sign of joy and hope for our Country”

“The Pope’s words, his presence and witness are of great import in the path to reconciliation”, said the President of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.  He went on: “we call upon everyone to join in the Pope’s deep yearning for peace in making the first step together with him”

Oscar Urbina Ortega

Everyone, each in their own way, should take the “first step” to bring peace and reconciliation in Colombia, after decades of war. It is the only option for the South American Country. The words, the presence and the witness of Pope Francis, who will be visiting Colombia September 6 to 10, will serve as an encouragement and a fundamental starting point – we were told by the President of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference Msgr. Oscar Urbina Ortega, interviewed via Skype during a short interval between meetings. Msgr. Ortega is also the archbishop of Villavicencio, where on September 8 Pope Francis is likely to experience the most intense and moving day of his apostolic visitation to Colombia.

Your Excellency, how is the Country and the Church living this period leading up to the Pope’s visit? 
The population has welcomed the news with great joy. It should be remembered that Colombia is a Country with a great Catholic tradition within a Catholic majority population.

It is a great sign of joy and hope for our Country that is slowly emerging from the war.

Along this path, his words, his presence and his witness are of major import.

Reconciliation is perhaps the key-word of the visit, whose motto is “Demos el primer paso”, let us take the first step. Why is reconciliation so important? 
We’re at the beginning of a process. The establishment of peace is not only the result of discarding all weapons. A path of reconciliation is necessary, and it should involve society as a whole, thereby attempting to heal the sad memories of the victims. It’s a process of forgiveness that should be sustained and encouraged. Forgiveness is necessary, and it ushers in the recovery of the social fabric. That’s why we call upon everyone to “take the first” step. It’s important to take this step with the Pope, who so deeply wants peace.

But the pathway to peace is slow and controversial: the Country appears to be divided, polarized. 
Yes, there is a polarization. The problem is that peace itself has become politicised. But we all know that this path needs to be undertaken and completed. And this can be done first of all by acknowledging the other person as our neighbour, brother, and son of God.

We must work to make Colombian society grow into a polyhedron, a multifaceted society with many diversities.. without renouncing our quest for unity and the development of a shared project for the Country.

The various perspectives were discussed also inside the Colombian Church. 
Colombian bishops came together inspired by figures such as Msgr. Jaramillo, the bishop murdered for his commitment to peace.

Colombia will have two new “Patron Saints”, they are the martyrs who will be beatified by Pope Francis… They will help us. Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve and don Pedro María Ramírez Ramos fought for unity and peace. Suffice it to mention the commitment of bishop Jaramillo to help Arauca’s farmers, to help his people overcome poverty, and his constant presence throughout the territory. The lives and the witness of the two martyrs are very important for us bishops and for all the faithful.

The beatification ceremony will be held September 8 in Villavicencio, the diocese where you serve as Archbishop. How are you preparing for the day? It will be a very important day. A large part of our land still needs to be developed. The land of the Meta Department region is a land soaked in the blood of countless victims. We will live the heart of the message that the Pope comes to brings us:

“May you be reconciled with God, with our brothers and with creation”

I believe this to be the core message of the Pope’s visit. We are looking forward to that day with great anticipation, marked by two historical occasions: the beatification Mass in the morning, and the great prayer meeting for national reconciliation in the Parque Las Malocas in the afternoon.

In your opinion how is the peace process with Farc proceeding against the backdrop of ongoing violence against social leaders perpetrated by the criminal groups? 
The conflict is unquestionably less virulent, a minority of guerrilla fighters have rejected the peace deal, but on the whole it can be said that the agreement is being implemented. My overall evaluation is positive. Many ex-guerrilla fighters have started studying and they are set to begin their reintegration process into society.

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