BOGOTA – Pope Francis’s visit to Colombia next month will be essential to strengthening national reconciliation and could bring “some good news” for the peace process with the ELN guerrilla group, President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview with EFE.
“This visit fills us with pride because it’s an honor that he’s giving Colombia, he’s only coming to Colombia, he comes as if to say, ‘Colombians, you have taken an important step, now the next one is reconciliation,’” the president said.
The theme of the Sept. 6-10 papal visit to Colombia is “Demos el primer paso” (Let’s Take the First Step).
Pope Francis plans to visit the cities of Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena and Villavicencio.
The pontiff has supported Colombia “from the first day that we informed him of our intention to seek peace” with the FARC, the country’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, which signed a peace agreement with the government last November, Santos said.
“He has been on our side, has urged us on, has supported us, and I have nothing but words of thanks for him,” the president said.
In response to a question about whether the papal visit could help the peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, which initially had some links to Catholic movements, Santos said he was hopeful that there could be “some good news,” adding that “it also depends on them.”
“Let’s hope the ELN understands this and the negotiations with them can advance in a successful process. For the government’s part, there’s full willingness and we have told them: let’s take advantage of the pope’s visit,” Santos said.