Prelates Consider Colombia on Bicentennial

Note Challenges New President Will Face

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BOGOTA, Colombia, JULY 8, 2010 ( When Colombia celebrates its 200th anniversary of independence later this month, the nation will be facing three main problems, according to the nation’s bishops.

Poverty, unemployment and violence are the challenges listed by the 78 Colombian bishops who are gathered in plenary assembly this week discussing «The Evangelizing Mission of the Church in the Building of Society, Two Centuries After the Nation’s Birth.»

In addition to marking the anniversary of independence, Colombia is readying to welcome its new president, Juan Manuel Santos, who takes office Aug. 7. Outgoing President Álvaro Uribe visited the bishops to thank them for their support during his eight years in office, and for the Church’s work in Colombia’s remotest villages.

The prelates met with the press about some of the issues being discussed in their assembly.

«We live in an immensely rich country but half the population lives in poverty,» said the president of the Colombian episcopal conference, Archbishop Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez, who was appointed today the archbishop of Bogota. «Today more than ever it is necessary to revise the policies against poverty, aware of the fact that we are facing a very complex, endemic process.»
The secretary of the episcopal conference, Auxiliary Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba Villota of Bucaramanga added that it is necessary to overcome «the gap between rich and poor» and he thanked the Church for being «a critical force that, in difficult times, looks to the future with hope and faith.»
He urged reflection, prayer and thanking God for these 200 years and called for continuing «to project ourselves always toward the future at the service of our people because that is our mission.»

Abuse crisis

Responding to a question from the press, Archbishop Salazar Gómez affirmed the Church «will do everything and more» to avoid any repetition of priestly abuse of minors. He reiterated communion with Benedict XVI and asked victims for forgiveness for these crimes.
«At present there is a very clear mentality that there can be no cover-ups; hence, the existence of these cases cannot be ignored,» he pointed out. «There is no collusion on the part of the Church with these crimes, on the contrary, there is an absolute condemnation of the persons responsible.»
The bishops have also discussed Colombia’s ongoing efforts to deal with internal violence. They recommended suspending talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), until the president-elect takes office.
«We are waiting for the arrival of the new government to see if they ask us to be facilitators,» said Archbishop Salazar Gómez.

In any case, they reiterated the Church’s call for peace in the situation.
Bishop Jorge Leonardo Gómez Serna of Magangue in northern Colombia said, «We are not resigned to the war because this war is absurd, and we hope that the new government will open paths of peace.»

The prelates also plan to urge the new government to revise policies for peasants, encouraging methods so that their lives can improve.

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