Peace a Priority for Evangelization, Colombian Bishops Told

Pope Receiving a Group of Prelates on Visit to Rome

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2004 ( John Paul II says the priority task of evangelization for the Church in strife-torn Colombia is the promotion of peace and reconciliation.

The Pope expressed this today when he received in audience the bishops of the Colombian ecclesiastical provinces of Medellin, Barranquilla, Cali, Cartagena, Manizales, Popayan and Santa Fe de Antioquia, at the end of their five-year visit to Rome.

“The Church, faithful to Jesus’ command, continues to make evangelization its principal action,” the Pope said in his long address in Spanish to the Colombian prelates.

Evangelization “includes many aspects, all of them important, although concrete circumstances, according to times and places, dictate giving priority to some over others, without neglecting any,” he added.

In Colombia’s case, “where for years an internal conflict is experienced which causes so many innocent victims, so much suffering in families and in society; which generates poverty, insecurity, and lessens the capacity for integral development, you are aware that in pastoral options priority must be given to peace and reconciliation,” the Holy Father said.

In this way, the Pope told the prelates, they will contribute “to build society on the solid Christian principles of truth, justice, love and freedom, also fostering forgiveness born from the sincere desire of reconciliation with God and brothers.”

John Paul II recalled the message he sent to Colombia two years ago, on the centenary of the country’s consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “The society that listens to and follows Christ’s message journeys toward authentic peace, rejects every form of violence, and generates new forms of coexistence on the sure and firm path of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness, fostering bonds of unity, fraternity and respect for everyone.”

The Holy Father continued: “Never hesitate to dedicate all pastoral zeal and commitment to promote the reconciliation that derives from evangelization, with the profound conviction that it will illuminate the action of the Christian laity and be able to be the effective and lasting remedy for the harsh and grave evils suffered at present by many citizens of your nation, due to the internal civil conflict, which has caused so many dead, including servants of the Gospel.”

In carrying out its work of evangelization and negotiation, over the past decade the Catholic Church in Colombia has seen 57 of its representatives killed, including bishops, priests, nuns and seminarians.

The Holy Father mentioned in particular the testimony of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali, killed by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in March 2002.

On May 4, John Paul II appealed for the release of Father César Darío Peña García, kidnapped in March in the department of Antioquia by FARC guerrillas.

Estimates say about 4,000 people die every year in Colombia’s ongoing internal conflict.

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