Colombia Buries Its Murdered Archbishop

500,000 Turned Out to Pay Last Respects

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CALI, Colombia, MARCH 20, 2002 ( Colombia buried its murdered Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino, after a half-million mourners turned out to pay their last respects.

Since Sunday, more than 500,000 people queued up outside St. Peter´s cathedral to say good-bye to «Monsignor,» as he was familiarly called. The archbishop was shot at point-blank range and killed Saturday as he left a church.

On Tuesday, some 90 bishops, hundreds of priests, and the papal nuncio in Colombia, Archbishop Beniamino Stella, took part in the funeral rites.

A gigantic poster of the archbishop was placed on the cathedral´s facade with the motto, «Apostle of Peace.»

During the ceremony, Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, archbishop of Bogota, praised the deceased for «his courage and clarity in his pronouncements.»

«His life and his death are a call to us all to live in hope, in faithful fulfillment of the duties that we have in that line of doing the will of God,» the cardinal said.

Thousands of people waving white handkerchiefs — some with a black cross of mourning, and others with an imprinted image of Christ — paid their respects at the bier.

Two hundred army men honored the archbishop, while his body was carried on shoulders to the cathedral. His remains lie in the cathedral, buried with a single rose, at the foot of the statue of the Virgin of Fatima.

After the ceremony, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana went to the microphone to bid a final farewell to the Cali archbishop. From that same spot, the prelate had denounced the funding of political campaigns with drug money.

Some of the mourners booed the president calling for «justice, justice,» and «he must go,» which forced Pastrana to cut his speech short.

The nation´s public prosecutor, Edgardo Maya Villazón, pleaded for prudence on the part of the authorities who are probing the murder, because conflicting declarations have been made publicly.

In official statements, both the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Army of National Liberation, two of the main guerrilla groups, denied responsibility. Suspicions have fallen on drug trade and its political connections, harshly denounced by the archbishop.

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