Pope urges Colombia to avoid 'vengeance' in peace drive

Pope urges Colombia to avoid 'vengeance' in peace drive

Pope Francis sent a telegram to embattled Venezuelan head of state Nicolas Maduro Wednesday, as he flew over Venezuela for a state visit to neighboring Colombia, telling Maduro that the Pontiff was “praying that all in the nation (Venezuela) may promote paths of solidarity, justice and concord”, in the crisis-stricken nation.

The pontiff said it was time "to help each other" after hatred that had lasted "too long".

A temporary ceasefire was agreed on Monday with the National Liberation Army (ELN), while the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) disarmed and disbanded in June.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his reconciliation efforts, told Italy's Il Messaggero newspaper that the visit would "motivate [Colombians] to continue on the path of reconciliation". He said Colombia's young must face the challenge of "passing onto us the youthful hope which is always ready to give others a second chance".

But the peace process has been fraught with division.

On the way to Colombia, the papal flight through the Caribbean was rerouted slightly southwards, to avoid the category-5 Hurricane Irma, the strongest Atlantic storm on record.

Still, he acknowledged that much work remains to be done to overcome the bitter divisions created by a peace deal a year ago that conservative opponents see as too generous with leftist guerrillas behind scores of atrocities during the country's half-century conflict. Upon his arrival in Colombia Wednesday, the pope met with victims of the 52-year conflict between the government and the FARC rebels.

He also asked for prayers for Colombia's neighbor Venezuela, whose problems are likely to demand some of his attention, hoping it finds "a good stability and dialogue with everyone".

Pope Francis is telling Colombia's bishops that they have a unique role to play in helping Colombians heal from a half-century of rebellion, saying they must show a "distinct kind of moral courage" to help Colombians overcome their base instincts of war and fear.

In Villavicencio, he will beatify two Catholic priests killed during the conflict. At least four people have been taken away in stretchers.

In total, the conflict left more than 250,000 people dead, 60,000 missing and millions more displaced.

Francis had called ahead of his trip for a "stable and lasting peace" in Colombia.

Francis is the third pope to visit the country after Pope Paul VI in 1968 and St. John Paul II in 1986.

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