“Our Country has a date with history, there is just one last step to go.” Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, archbishop of Tunja, president of Colombian bishops, spoke in considered, albeit straightforward terms. He said: “the Church is not behaving like Pontius Pilate” with respect to the referendum on the peace agreement of October 2. Interview with Mons. Castro – Priest of Consolate Missionaries, in the past in the front line as apostolic vicar in one of the hottest areas of Colombian guerrilla, San Vicente de Caguan – ahead of Colombia’s most important, decisive week in its recent history. Heads of Government and State from world countries are due to arrive in the beautiful city of Cartagena on Monday, September 26 (among whom figure Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin) to take part in the solemn signing of the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels. The official event follows the peace agreement reached a month ago in Havana. Six days after the ratification, due on October 2, the Colombian population will have the final word: if 13% (the established quorum of the referendum) will go to the polls and if a yes-vote should prevail, the agreements will become operative and irreversible The election campaign is growing bitter and former president Alvaro Uribe Vélez is leading a strenuous battle in support of a No-vote, portraying the agreement as a concession to the guerrilla. The yes-vote is leading the polls, however not all national surveys confirm such an advantage. Mons. Castro remains confident: “Colombia suffered the consequences of a 53-year war, now we are very close to achieving peace. Or rather, we are very close to the end of this war. The event is reason for much joy. It’s a great blessing. There is one last step to reach the final goal: the referendum of October 2. Colombia has a historic opportunity, a watershed separating the period before and after peace. The Country can finally usher in a new course entailing the resolution to its problems.”
This is happening in the year of Mercy. Isn’t it a significant coincidence? Indeed, it should be said that mercy has an extremely important role in this path. The victims of this war have received the support of institutions, especially that of the Church. We have promoted paths of forgiveness and reconciliation. Those who survived the armed conflict can turn a new page; while those who leave the guerrilla behind them are the Prodigal Sons who finally are returning home. They should be welcomed and integrated into society enabling them to follow a positive course.
If we don’t open our doors these people risk falling victims of common criminality or going back to the guerrilla.
The Church has not made an explicit appeal in favour of a Yes-vote, although on some occasions you have said that it should not be interpreted as equidistance. Could you explain the reasons for this choice?
It should be clear that we are not behaving like Pontius Pilate. We are not washing our hands before this important event.
On the contrary. We want to invite all Colombian citizens to reflect, to fully understand and acknowledge the importance of this path of peace. It’s an extremely important occasion for discernment. If we told the faithful what they should vote many of them would probably follow our indications, but without reflecting or understanding why. We call upon the Colombian population to go to the polls, and we confide that they will vote according to their conscience. We are optimistic about the fact that the population will understand what is at stake.
What do you think about the part of the agreement concerning transitional justice? Indeed, transitional justice entails the possibility of reducing penalties for offenders found guilty of certain crimes. But this can happen only if people face the truth. It should be underlined that
Transitional justice does not equal impunity.
Across the world there have already been eighty cases whereby this form of justice was implemented at the end of a conflict. Second, it should be said that a dedicated Court, the Special Tribunal for Peace, will decide which cases go to trial and the judges will not be chosen by the rebels, as rumours have it. Rather, it will be a high-level Tribunal. In fact, a request was even made to the Pope to suggest the members of the panel of judges. In the Country some claim that the culprits should not receive a reduction and should be sentenced to maximum penalties… However, none of the parties involved in the peace negotiations would ever accept this solution.
ELN, another guerrilla group, is active in Colombia. Do you think an agreement will be reached also in this case? We’re going through a difficult period. The main points of the public agreement were defined during a confidential stage of the negotiations. When it seemed that all the steps had been successfully discussed, the National Liberation Army (ELN) carried out kidnappings and caused turmoil. Nonetheless, efforts aimed at making public the last stage of the agreement are ongoing, and I confide that in the coming weeks we will know the date of the official dialogue for the establishment of peace. This requires leaving aside impressive speeches and laying down the weapons.
Colombia looks forward to a visit by Pope Francis after the end of the war…
The Pope assured on several occasions that he will be visiting Columbia next year.
We drew up a draft program of the papal visit that we sent to the Vatican for examination. We will naturally accept their indications and we plan to initiate a spiritual preparation process ahead of the meeting with Francis.