Church Standing By Its Colombian Flock, Says Archbishop

President of Episcopate Comments on Bojaya Massacre

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ROME, MAY 9, 2002 ( Amid recent deadly attacks on clergy and the faithful, the president of the Colombian bishops´ conference said: «The Catholic Church will continue to be by the side of all Colombians, of all without distinctions.»

«Peace is not built with violence or arms,» Archbishop Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo said in statements published today in the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Last Thursday a rebel rocket struck the church of the Bojaya district, killing at least 117, including about 40 children, who had fled there for refuge. The bodies were buried in a common grave.

Some of the wounded have developed gangrene because of a lack of medical care, said Albeiro Parra, director of social pastoral care of the Diocese of Quibdo. Today, the village of Bella Vista, where the massacre happened, was deserted, except for soldiers patrolling the streets.

«As there was no chance that the office of the public prosecutor could remove the bodies, they had to be buried like this,» Parra said. «So far, 117, but they will continue to increase.»

Bombings impede humanitarian aid reaching the area, and people cannot be evacuated. Hunger is setting in, too, throughout the Choco region in northwestern Colombia. No provisions have arrived in the area since April 21, because of interference by armed groups.

The archbishop said: «I think that the guerrillas wish to break down the will of Colombians, to avoid their becoming stronger, and thus make them easy prey to their heedless actions.»

«We will continue to be close to our people, we will continue to gather them in prayer, we will not hesitate to condemn injustices, reprisals, massacres,» the archbishop added. «We will always be by their side. The Church will never abandon Colombians. The FARC and the paramilitary forces are on a mistaken path to achieve peace and justice.»

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said the attack was accidental and blamed the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia for the death toll because the fighting started after the paramilitaries arrived, the Associated Press reported.

But the archbishop of Medellin said: «I don´t want to think that the attack on the church of Bojaya was done on purpose, but, unfortunately, the facts demonstrate the contrary.»

On March 16, Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali were murdered outside a church. On April 6 a priest, Father Juan Ramón Núñez, was killed while celebrating Mass in a southern village. Dozens of other priests have been threatened by rebel and paramilitary groups.

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