VATICAN CITY, MARCH 17, 2002 ( John Paul II condemned the murder of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali, Colombia, an outspoken critic of drug traffickers, guerrillas and paramilitary forces.

Archbishop Duarte Cancino was killed Saturday as he left Good Shepherd Church, in one of Cali´s poorest neighborhoods. He had just presided over the celebration of some 100 marriages.

"Two men approached him and one fired point-blank at him," said General Heliodoro Alfonso Roa, commander of Cali´s metropolitan police.

The archbishop, who was hit in the head and chest, was taken to Carlos Holmes Trujillo Clinic, where he died. Police initially attributed the murder to leftist guerrillas, but later said they had no evidence.

Addressing pilgrims gathered in St. Peter´s Square today, John Paul II described the archbishop in Spanish as a "generous and courageous pastor in announcing the Good News."

The Pope said the archbishop paid with "such a high price his energetic defense of human life, his firm opposition to all kinds of violence, and his dedication to social development as rooted in the Gospel."

"While I offer prayers for the eternal rest of the deceased prelate and express my closeness to the Colombian Church that weeps over his tragic demise, I exhort Colombians once again to continue on the paths of dialogue," the Pope said, after praying the midday Angelus.

The Holy Father appealed to Colombians to reject "all kinds of violence, blackmail and the kidnapping of people," and to commit themselves to "authentic ways of peace."

Colombia has endured 38 years of civil war. Some 40,000 people have died over the past decade alone.

Archbishop Duarte Cancino, 63, had said that some of the campaigns in the recent legislative elections were tainted by drug money.

Archbishop Alberto Giraldo of Medellin, president of the Colombian episcopal conference, said: "The question that remains is: What is happening? What are the dark forces that wish to destabilize this country?"

The deceased "was a very approachable man, friend, tenacious fighter, very sincere. He gave his life for his community," Archbishop Giraldo continued.

"If we believe in the Lord, if we are certain of our faith in him, we cannot lose our peace," he added.
A number of priests have been killed in Colombia in recent years in actions attributed to the guerrilla movement. Archbishop Duarte Cancino´s death is the most serious event that has taken place in Colombia since President Andrés Pastrana broke off peace talks with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country´s main rebel group. FARC has 17,000 combatants.

Twenty-eight FARC guerrillas died Saturday in battles with the army, while at sundown a large region of Colombia, including the cities of Bogota, Cali and Medellin, was left in the dark for unclear reasons, officials said.

In recent weeks, FARC has escalated its attacks and toppled dozens of electric power lines.