(Vatican Radio) Colombia’s bishops have appealed to the Government and to the National Liberation Army (ELN) to agree on a bilateral ceasefire.
The appeal came in a statement, signed by the President of the Colombian Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga and by other bishops including the Archbishop of Cali, Dario de Jesus Monsalve Mejia who heads the Catholic Commission for dialogue with ELN.
Listen to the report by Linda Bordoni:
“We wish to fuel dialogue until a final agreement is reached between the parties (…) with the aim of ending the armed conflict” the statement reads.
The bishops continue pointing out that “happily, Pope Francis’ Apostolic visit is drawing close and this urges all to find common ground, without any exclusions, in order for each party to be able to take the first step.
And they express their support for the ongoing negotiations between the Government and ELN rebels in Quito, Ecuador.
“Thus, the bishops say, we appeal for a ceasefire and the bilateral cessation of hostilities; that it may represent an expression of your wish and of that of the Colombian people to receive the Holy Father with welcome for him as a person and for his message.”
A step such as this, the statement concludes, will significantly help to strengthen a social and political will for peace “which still wavers before the habit of resorting to violence and manipulating the truth”.
Pope Francis is scheduled to make a six-day trip to Colombia in September, with four cities on his itinerary, almost a year after the government and FARC rebels signed a major peace agreement.
Meanwhile members of ELN and government negotiators began talks in February in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, seeking to end more than five decades of conflict.
Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war. International observers say that with more than 6.8 million forcibly displaced due to the conflict, Colombia has the world’s second largest population of internally displaced people, with Syria in first place.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has expressed his joy for the Pope’s upcoming visit and voiced his hope that Francis’ presence would help Colombians to unite around the “building of a more just and equitable country, with peace and more solidarity.”