Cali Archbishop Defended the Lowly, and Made Enemies

Fides Director Honors Memory of Murdered Prelate

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 18, 2002 ( Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali was the primary defender of the defenseless populations of Colombia, says a Vatican official who recalled the memory of the murdered prelate.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the Vatican missionary agency Fides, described the archbishop as “a friendly man, always in good spirits.”

Archbishop Duarte Cancino, 63, who was killed Saturday as he left a church, “thundered against Marxist guerrilla fighters, paramilitaries and politicians alike,” Father Cervellera said.

“Just like Bishop Juan Gerardi in Guatemala, Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo in Mexico, and Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Archbishop Duarte, a man of the Gospel, taught that the path of the Church is the human person and human dignity,” the missionary priest and journalist emphasized.

“But treading this path made him an enemy of those for whom people are objects to exploit in the struggle to affirm an ideology or personal economic power,” the priest continued.

The Fides director recalled the Colombian archbishop´s fiery words against the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who, after carrying out a massacre in 2000, played soccer with the heads of the police and military officers they had murdered. Countless civilians were also killed in the blood bath.

“A guerrilla who kidnaps and kills … has lost all human virtues; he is the most miserable of men,” the archbishop said, after accusing the FARC of “crimes against humanity” and against the very people they claim to defend.

“We beg the Lord to make these guerrillas feel the pain of killing an innocent, helpless brother, so they realize that the war they are fighting is not a just war,” he added.

Father Cervellera recalled that the archbishop also criticized President Andrés Pastrana´s government, describing it as too weak “to demand respect for human rights” and too frightened to “choose the paths of peace, social justice and harmony.”

Feeble government led to an increase in paramilitary groups, paid by drug traffickers and large landowners and backed by elements in the army and the police, Father Cervellera pointed out.

Only weeks before the March 10 parliamentary elections, Archbishop Duarte Cancino denounced some candidates for paying for their electoral campaigns with the help of drug traffickers in northern Colombia.

Violence in Colombia has left at least 35,000 people dead over the last decade and forced about 2 million Colombians to flee the country, Fides said. Guerrilla fighting and violence are preventing development. Colombia has an unemployment rate of 20%, the lowest labor force in the world (13.9%), and a record for criminal impunity (almost 100%).

“With the whole Church in Colombia, Archbishop Duarte led the way with the testimony of faith, standing up to everyone and everything, showing that reasons for life are stronger than reasons for death, even when clothed in high-sounding words of the left or right,” Fides said.

Isaías Duarte Cancino was born at San Gil, in the Santander region of Colombia, on Feb. 15, 1939. He was ordained a priest in Rome on Dec. 1, 1963. His duties included working as an assistant priest at the Cathedral of Bucaramanga, professor at Pamplona´s major seminary, and parish priest in Bucaramanga, Giron and Malaga.

On April 10, 1985, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Bucaramanga and on June 18, 1988, first bishop of the new Diocese of Apartado. On Aug. 19, 1995, John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Cali.

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