BOGOTA – Pope Francis will meet with victims of Colombia’s armed conflict on his visit to the South American country bearing messages of reconciliation, respect for human rights and life.
Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo confirmed the event to EFE in an interview, explaining that the meeting will take place in the central city of Villavicencio, the second stop on the pontiff’s September 6-10 visit.
“We in the government especially value the Holy See’s decision for His Holiness to stop in Villavicencio for a special event with 6,000 victims,” Naranjo said.
The “Great Encounter for Reconciliation” will take place at a time when members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas are transitioning back into the country’s social fabric after signing a peace pact with the government last November.
“Two victimizers and two victims will have the opportunity to deliver a message, that is a really very significant element of this visit,” said Naranjo, a retired police general who in 2010 was honored as the “world’s best police officer” and who on this occasion is coordinating security for Francis.
Naranjo said that in the cities included in the pope’s Colombian tour the Holy Father will deliver four messages.
“In Bogota, the message ... will be weavers of peace, Mother Mary ... and a tribute to life. In Villavicencio, reconciling ourselves in God, reconciling among ourselves, and reconciling with nature and the environment,” he continued.
The vice president added that the Catholic Church leader in Medellin, where he will meet with religious workers and their families, will emphasize “vocation and service.”
“It’s a message to hail a potential that Colombia has for the world ... Antioquia (province) and Colombia are leaders in priestly vocations in the world for the Catholic Church,” he said.
And in the coastal city of Cartagena, from where the pontiff will depart to return to Rome, the message will be “human rights and human dignity,” Naranjo added.
When asked about the arrangements to protect the pope, Naranjo said that a “broad mechanism” will be implemented that will provide “discrete security, without visible weapons in the first ring, and very much supported by intelligence gathered beforehand.”
He also said that The Vatican had recommended that the pontiff not travel in an armored vehicle, noting that there have been “no indications” of any terrorist threats.
The Colombian security operation, however, will include some 36,000 soldiers and police and about 33,000 volunteers trained by the Church.
Francis will be the third pope to visit Colombia, after Paul VI did so in 1968 and John Paul II traveled here in 1986.