Published: Thu, September 07, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Pope Francis in Colombia

Pope Francis in Colombia

Francis will encourage reconciliation as Colombians prepare to receive 7,000 former FARC fighters into society and fix divisions after a war that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions over five decades.

"Don't let them steal your happiness, and let no one deceive you or steal your hope", Francis said. "Ending the war is worthless if we still see each other as enemies".

Hosffman Ospino, a Colombian theologian at Boston College, told the New York Times that "It's risky ground for Pope Francis" because "half of the country disagrees with the peace process".

Anger over the accord has not dampened enthusiasm for the pope's visit. The Pope brings a message of forgiveness to a deeply divided country Last year the government signed a peace deal with Marxist rebels to end a 50-year war that killed more than 220,000 people.

Santos so far has spent most of his presidency on the peace arrangement reached past year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - or FARC - the militant left-wing rebels that had fought against the government since the 1960s.

"Peace needs a solid foundation, and reconciliation is one of those pillars that we hopefully we will not only plant but also strengthen", Santos said.

Francis received a tumultuous welcome on Wednesday afternoon.

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Pope Francis is urging Colombians come together to heal the divisions spawned by five decades of armed conflict and enact "just laws" to address the entrenched inequality that sparked the rebellion.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace deal, wrote a letter to the pope Tuesday expressing concern that the deal with the rebels had fueled a rise in drug trafficking and created economic uncertainties with the potential to destroy Colombia's social fabric.

A half-hour into the flight, Francis told journalists he wanted to "help Colombia in its path of peace".

The pope then turned his attention to Venezuela where, he said, "may dialogue happen and may the country rediscover a good stability with the dialogue of all".

The highlight of Francis' trip comes Friday, with a meeting and prayer of reconciliation between victims of the conflict and former guerrillas in Villavicencio, a city south of Bogota surrounded by territory long held by the FARC.

Today Francis will meet Colombian authorities and bishops and celebrate a Mass.

He will also beatify two priests murdered during the years of warfare by the rebels and will declare them martyrs who were targeted because of hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis has arrived in Colombia for a five-day visit. At least 79 people died and 100 were injured. For Colombia, this is the first papal visit since 1986.

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