A liturgy of the word was held at the signing of the Colombian peace agreement. The Pope’s secretary of state gave a homily, which we translate below:
Mister President of the Republic of Colombia, Doctor Juan Manuel Santos Calderon,
Gentlemen Heads of State and Government,
His Majesty the King Don Juan Carlos,
Gentlemen Ministers and Gentlemen Heads of the Delegations Here Present,
Distinguished Colombian Authorities and Those of Other Countries,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
I wish, in the first place, to transmit Pope Francis’ closeness to the beloved Colombian people and their Authorities, especially in the present circumstance of the signing of the Final Agreement between the Government of Colombia and the FARC-EP. The Holy Father followed with great attention the efforts of these last years, in the quest for concord and reconciliation. He encouraged these efforts several times without taking part in the concrete solutions that have been negotiated, and on which the citizens themselves will decide in conscience in a free, informed way. The Pope has always encouraged respect for human rights and for Christian values, which are at the center of Colombian culture.
I think that all of us who are present here are aware that, at bottom, we are, yes, at the end of a negotiation, but also at the beginning of a process, yet open, of change, which requires the contribution and respect of all Colombians.
We have gathered for this Liturgy of the Word in the thought-provoking setting of Cartagena of the Indies, whose evolution in time represents in some way the very history of this country. More than 350 years ago, in the old port of Cartagena, Saint Peter Claver consumed his life with admirable abnegation and extraordinary charity in favor of the slaves brought from Africa.
We could say that, as centuries ago the slaves and merchants arrived at port sick and mistreated, today many Colombians move uprooted and sorrowful, with their dignity wounded or taken away. They have lived through storms and dark clouds, without losing hope. They need to be rescued and loved; they thirst for fresh water.
The remains of Saint Peter Claver rest just under the altar of this church, located near his convent. In the course of more than four decades, he was able to perceive the great dignity of so many human beings treated as merchandise, subjected to all sorts of atrocities, recruited and displaced from their lands for slavery. Going out with charity to meet these victims of injustice, he honored their dignity and gave them hope.
Likewise, today also Jesus awaits us to free us from the chains of slavery – our own and those caused by others. He is anxious to embrace us, to cure our wounds, to dry our tears, to give us to eat and drink the water and bread of life, to look at us with love in the depth of our soul, to take us in His arms to a safe port … We know that the suffering of the victims, offered at the foot of the Cross, become a bowl to receive His mercy.
In the letter I sent you expressing the Pope’s desire to visit these lands, I said that “it is necessary to take the risk to convert, with the whole Church, each parish and each institution into a field hospital, into a safe place in which those can meet again who experienced atrocities and those who acted from the side of violence.” Obviously, it is from encounter that Colombia must alleviate the pain of so many of its inhabitants, humiliated and oppressed by violence; it must stop the hatred and change the direction of its history, to build a better future within just and solid institutions.
The best method to begin a better future is to reconstruct the dignity of those that suffer, and to do this it is necessary to approach them without restrictions of time, to the point of identifying with them. In other words, the peace that Colombia yearns for goes beyond the also necessary obtaining of certain structures or conventions, and it is centered on the reconstruction of the person: in fact, it is in the wounds of the human heart where the profound causes of the conflict are found, which in the last decades have rent this country.
God alone gives us the strength to address such problems and, above all, the capacity to identify ourselves with all those who suffer because of them. Therefore, we have gathered today in prayer in this country of Catholic roots. We do not regard this meting as one more event, but as a manifestation of the confidence of the Authorities and of all those who follow us with the strength of prayer to God. This Liturgy is an invocation to the Lord, who can grant what is often impossible for human strength alone: light for the way and for the decisions that Colombians must freely take, in the warmth of respect, of listening and of serene dialogue that must accompany such decisions.
Moreover, our prayer attests, perhaps in an almost unconscious way, what Saint John Paul II wrote when he came on pilgrimage to Colombia: “in the light of faith, solidarity tends to surpass itself, being clothed with the specifically Christian dimensions of total gratitude, forgiveness and reconciliation” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 40). Therefore, we ask God to grant us this heroism in solidarity, which is necessary to fill, in truth and in justice, the abyss of evil caused by violence. And we also want to thank Him for having sustained Colombians amidst situations of hatred and pain, and for having opened their hearts, over many years, to the firm hope that violence and conflict are avoidable: a different future can be built, in which to coexist without massacring one another and in which different convictions can be held, in the framework of respect of the democratic rules, of human dignity and of the Catholic tradition of this great nation.
With the historic perspective that the figure of Saint Peter Claver and his time offer us, Colombia has felt, in its flesh, that the ambition for money and power and, because of this, the exploitation of man by man, forced displacement, violence and ignorance of the dignity of the victims, among others scourged, threaten humanity permanently. In the present crossroads, we pray to God for the future of this beloved people, so that they may walk on paths of truth, justice and peace, in keeping with the words of the Psalm we have just heard.
Today we also want to make our own the words of the evangelist Matthew (cf. 5:3-11):
“Blessed are Colombians who are poor in spirit, for theirs the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are Colombians who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are Colombians who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are Colombians who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are Colombians who are merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are Colombians who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are Colombians who are peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are Colombians who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you Colombians when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Religions induce one to listen, to understand and to recognize the reasons and value of the other. Faith is opposed to the harming of a person’s dignity, which causes the laceration of the civil fabric; it is not contrary to secularism, understood as respect for the different spheres of competence of the civil and spiritual reality. In fact, secularism is in need of faith, as a necessary point of reference for coexistence and for respect. The Catholic Church in particular promotes serene social coexistence, in accordance with the spiritual tradition of Colombians, without calling for all to have the same religious confession. She offers points of reference so that individuals and collectivities can find and contribute lights in the quest for the common good.
We implore Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquira, Queen of Colombia, to protect us and to intercede so that it will thus be.
[Original text: Spanish] [Translation by ZENIT]