(Vatican Radio) Just days after rebels in Colombia announced turning in the last of their cache of weapons over to international observers, the Vatican announced details of Pope Francis’ trip to the war-torn nation.
It will be his 20th Apostolic Journey abroad and sees him visiting four cities, starting his trip in the Colombian capital of Bogota on September 6th, followed by day trips to Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.
He returns to Rome on Monday the 11th.
It is a crucial time in the country as it strives to overcome more than five decades of internal conflict and achieve reconciliation.
The Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia, Archbishop Ettore Balestrero, told Linda Bordoni that Colombians see Pope Francis as a friend who is coming not only to encourage them on their path to reconciliation and peace, but to affirm them in their faith and stand with them at this crucial moment in their country’s history.
Listen to the full interview:
Archbishop Balestrero says the last papal visit to Colombia took place 31 years ago and the people today are awaiting Francis with enthusiasm and joy.
“Pope Francis is coming as pilgrim of hope, a pilgrim of faith, a pilgrim of reconciliation, so there is a high expectation all over the country, and people are extremely happy to receive him. They are honored for his visit and ready to show him the warmth and the hospitality and also the affectivity of the people,” he says.
While the eyes of the world are on the aspects of the visit that have to do with peace and reconciliation in this special time for Colombia, the Pope himself has underlined the pastoral nature of his visit.
“He is considered to be the friend who can help them to take a step towards God and towards their brothers,” says Balestrero. "This step," he says, "is first of all a step towards Christ”.
He says that Colombia is the 7th country in the world as far as the number of Catholics is concerned: “The Pope’s presence therefore will strengthen awareness that Christ is close to each Colombian person”.
In this perspective, Archbishop Balestrero says, the Pope will help Colombians to look at their brothers through new eyes, with eyes of hope, love and respect, within families, within communities, within villages.
Balestrero says he will also be inviting them to avoid corruption and polarization and teach them how to balance truth and mercy in the construction of the new country.
“The Holy Father will help and will guide us in striking a balance and building up a society which is respectful of God and respectful of men,” he says.
The Nuncio says the Pope will also be addressing his brother bishops and the Church in Colombia and will presumably invite them to continue to be close to the people and to share their hopes and their sufferings.
He mentions the two priests whom Pope Francis will beatify during the journey – the parish priest of Armero and the bishop of Arauca (both of whom provide powerful testimonies as the country heals from decades of conflict) – and says Francis will hold them up as examples of how the Church is called to lead the people with the lives and the testimonies of Her members, teach forgiveness and build bridges.
Regarding the difficult political situation in neighboring Venezuela and the exodus of people crossing the border, the Nuncio says there have been meetings between the Bishops of the two nations and that the Colombian bishops have invited the faithful to welcome their brothers from Venezuela "to see in their faces the face of Christ- suffering, hungry, thirsty - and not to consider their presence here as business, but as an occasion to give help and support”.
Balestrero also says the bishops at the country's borders want to join in an emergency pastoral plan to provide emergency aid and juridical help to those who are arriving in Colombia.