VATICAN CITY, NOV. 19, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A group of Colombian motorcyclists sporting black T-shirts reading “liberty” formed part of the audience for Benedict XVI’s public address Wednesday.
They had arrived to Paul VI Hall from Spain — braving the European autumn to travel in caravan on their bikes. They are the “Freedom Caravan,” appealing for the release of kidnap victims in Colombia and elsewhere.
After the general audience, the Pope included them in his particular greetings.
“I cordially greet the Spanish-speaking faithful, in particular, the caravan ‘for peace and the release of the kidnapped’ from Colombia, as well as the pilgrims from Spain, Mexico and other Latin American countries,” he said.
The motorcyclists are calling for an end to the captivity of some 3,000 kidnapped people in Colombia, Gaza, Mexico, Guatemala and other places.
The promoter of this initiative is journalist Herbin Hoyos, director of the radio program Las Voces del Secuestro (Voices of Kidnapping). That program enables relatives and friends to send messages to their captive loved ones. In fact, Hoyos is currently living in Spain in exile, due to constant threats from armed groups.
Once Wednesday’s papal audience was over, the journalist and Colombian Jenny Mendieta, whose father has been in captivity for 11 years, had the opportunity to greet the Pope.
“It was a very emotional moment,” said Hoyos in statements to Caracol Radio. “As soon as I mentioned that Jenny’s father has been in captivity for 11 years, [the Pope’s] faced showed his astonishment. He took her hand very effusively, showing much admiration for her.”
Hoyos gave the Holy Father a white motorcycle helmet, donated by Colombian relatives of the kidnapped. Hoyos said he was hoping the Pontiff would put it on, though Vatican protocol would not allow it.
“I told His Holiness that we […] were giving him this helmet because we acknowledge him as our pastor and as our leader for the kidnapped of Colombia and for the release of other kidnapped individuals of the world,” said Hoyos.
“I said: Your Holiness, in addition to prayer I would like to ask you to be an intermediary so that these persons return to liberty, and he said to me: ‘We are going to do this, but we are going to pray.’ He stressed prayer very much. So be it. He took my hand and looked into my eyes, as though asking me to have confidence,” the journalist added.
For her part, Mendieta appealed for solidarity with the kidnapped and pointed out the need to convince the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government to obtain the release of all hostages. She lamented that international attention has been taken from these victims since the July 2008 release of Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. citizens.
The caravan, which has received invitations to go to Russia, Gaza and Central America, “will only end when they release the last kidnapped person and not when the violent want it to end,” Mendieta affirmed.