VATICAN CITY — On Wednesday Pope Francis recalled his recent visit to Colombia, saying the desire for peace in the country is proof that the violence of the past doesn’t have the last word — the love and mercy of Christ does.
“Colombia, like most Latin American countries, is a country in which the Christian roots are strong,” the Pope said at his Sept. 13 general audience.
“And if this fact makes the pain due to the tragedy of the war that has torn it apart even more acute, at the same time it constitutes the guarantee of peace, the solid foundation of its reconstruction, the lifeblood of its invincible hope,” he said.
Given its recent bloody past, Francis said that “it’s evident that the evil one wanted to divide the people in order to destroy the work of God, but it is equally evident that the love of Christ and his infinite mercy is stronger than sin and death.”
The Pope spoke to pilgrims present at his general audience, which took place just two days after he returned from his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia.
The visit, which marked Francis’ third tour of South America since his election in 2013, took him to a total of four cities, including Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena.
In his audience address, the Pope said that while in Colombia, he felt a strong continuity with Blessed Paul VI and St. John Paul II, who visited the country in 1968 and 1986, respectively. He described it as “a continuity strongly animated by the Spirit, which guides the people of God on the streets of history.”
Pointing to the theme of the trip, “Let Us Take the First Step,” he said it refers to the process of reconciliation Colombia is going through after more than 50 years of conflict between the government and guerrilla and paramilitary groups.
Colombia, he said, is trying “to go out of a half century of internal conflict, which has sown suffering and enmities, causing many wounds that are difficult to heal.”
However, he said that “with the help of God, the path is now underway,” adding that during his visit he wanted to “bless the effort of that people, confirm them in faith and in hope, and receive their testimony, which is a richness for my ministry and for the entire Church.”
“This visit was intended to bring the blessing of Christ, the blessing of the Church, to the desire for life and peace which overflows from the heart of that nation,” he said.
Francis then recounted the different stages of his visit, recalling how in Bogotá he was able to see this desire in the eyes of the “thousands and thousands of children, teenagers and young people” who came to meet him at the apostolic nunciature, where he stayed during his visit.
He also noted that he was able to meet the bishops of Colombia and all of Latin America and gave thanks “that I could embrace them and for having given them my pastoral encouragement for their mission in service to the sacramental Church of Christ.”
Then in Villavicencio, his day was dedicated to reconciliation and included a large gathering for national reconciliation and a Mass in which the Pope beatified the two modern martyrs Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve and Father María Ramírez Ramos.
The two martyrs, he said, are a reminder “that peace is founded also and above all on the blood of the many witnesses of love, truth, justice and even the true and real martyrs killed for the faith, like the two mentioned.”
“Listening to their biographies moved me to tears: tears of pain and joy together,” he said. And in front of their relics and their faces in their portraits, “the holy people of God felt their own identity strongly, with pain, thinking of the many, too many, victims, and with joy, for the mercy of God extending toward those who fear him.”
Then in Medellín, the perspective for the day was that of “Christian life as discipleship: vocation and mission,” Francis said.
“When Christians commit themselves until the end in the journey following Jesus Christ, becoming true salt, light and leaven in the world, the fruits are seen abundantly,” he said, explaining that one of these fruits was the children’s home he visited for youth who have lost their families due to violence or poverty.
Finally, the Pope drew attention to his visit to Cartagena, where St. Peter Claver lived. The saint, who was referenced in many of Francis’ speeches during the trip, was an “apostle of the slaves,” he said.
St. Peter Claver and St. Maria Bernarda Bütler, a missionary in Colombia, “gave their lives for the poor and marginalized, and so revealed the path to true revolution; evangelical, not ideological, which truly frees people and society from the slavery of yesterday and, unfortunately, today,” he said.
In this sense, “taking the first step” means, above all, “drawing near, bending down, touching the flesh of the wounded and abandoned brother,” the Pope said. “And in doing it with Christ … there is hope, because he is mercy and peace.”
Pope Francis closed his address by entrusting Colombia to the care and intercession of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá, whose statue he venerated in the cathedral of Bogotá.
“With the help of Mary, each Colombian can every day take the first step toward their brother and sister, and so build together, day by day, peace and love, in justice and in truth.”
After his audience, Pope Francis greeted individuals and groups of pilgrims from different countries around the world, including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who became Catholic in 2007 and has established several foundations and nonprofit organizations based on faith and global advancement.
He also met Wednesday with recently released kidnapped priest Father Tom Uzhunnalil.