Pope Francis Has urged Colombians on Wednesday to avoid seeking “vengeance” for the sufferings of their country’s half-century civil conflict as they work towards a lasting peace.
The 80-year-old Argentine pontiff spoke alongside Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, who has overseen recent controversial efforts to make peace with armed rebel groups.
“The steps taken give rise to hope, in the conviction that seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a task which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone,” Francis said.
“May this determination help us flee from the temptation to vengeance and the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests.”
Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for his part in the FARC accord. His government has also agreed to a ceasefire with the last active rebel group, the 1,500-strong ELN.
Those are key steps towards ending a many-sided conflict that has left 260,000 people confirmed dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and seven million displaced.
But the peace process has been fraught with division. Critics say the FARC rebels got off too lightly, with amnesties and alternative sentences.
“This process is a lie… I believe in God, but I do not need intermediaries,” said Bogota resident Luis Eduardo Martinez, 63, commenting on the pope’s visit.
He said he witnessed a massacre by the FARC in the city of Villavicencio, where Francis will travel on Friday on the third day of his five-day tour.
“We who saw so many victims die have not lost our resentment. I hope God will allow me to let that resentment go, but it is still there.”
Francis tried unsuccessfully to mediate between Santos and the lead opponent of the FARC accord, conservative leader Alvaro Uribe.
Colombians narrowly rejected the accord in a referendum last year. A reworked version was later pushed through Congress.
Santos thanked Francis for coming “to accompany us and encourage us to take the first step towards reconciliation,” in a speech alongside the pope on Thursday.
“There is no use in ending a war if we still see each other as enemies,” Santos added. “We need to be able to forgive and to seek forgiveness.
FARC leader Rodrigo Londono shook hands with his longtime foe Santos last year when they signed the accord.
Londono also hailed the pope’s visit on Thursday.
“Welcome, Francis. Thank you for supporting the peace and defending social and environmental justice,” he wrote on Twitter.
But for others, the pope’s visit was a reminder of the country’s painful historical divisions.
“It’s no secret to anyone that priests helped create guerrilla groups in our country,” Ismael Leon, a representative of a victims campaign group, told AFP on Wednesday.
“So this visit just brings more worries and more doubts.”
At his open-air encounter with Santos in front of the presidential palace, Francis smiled and hugged local children dressed all in white as a choir sang a song of peace.
He was scheduled later to meet with bishops and give a mass to thousands of worshippers in Simon Bolivar Park.
He will then make daily excursions by plane to the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.
In Villavicencio, he will beatify two Catholic priests killed during the conflict and pray for reconciliation with victims of violence, former guerrilla members and ex-military fighters.
“The more demanding the path that leads to peace and understanding, the greater must be our efforts to acknowledge each another,” Francis said on Thursday, before heading inside for private talks with Santos.
“To heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and support one another.”