Pope Francis urged Colombians, on Wednesday, to reject “vengeance” for the sufferings of their civil conflict and promote forgiveness to overcome lingering resentments as the country seeks lasting peace.
Cheering crowds greeted the 80-year-old Argentine pontiff as he prayed for the country to heal the wounds of war, though some warned that forgiveness was hard after so much violence.
Pope Francis spoke alongside President Juan Manuel Santos, who has overseen a controversial peace deal with the FARC rebel force and a ceasefire with the last active guerrilla group, the ELN.
“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,” He 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 accord that has seen the FARC disarm and transform into a political party.
It was a key step toward ending a many-sided territorial and ideological conflict that has left 260,000 people confirmed dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and seven million displaced.
In a balcony address later to crowds of young people near Bogota’s cathedral, Pope Francis urged them to “dream big” for the country’s future.
“Your youthfulness, makes you capable of something very difficult in life: forgiving. Forgiving those who have hurt us,” he said.
He, last year, 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.
Santos thanked Pope Francis for coming to “encourage us to take the first step toward 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.
After talks with Santos at the presidential palace, Francis visited Bogota cathedral and met with bishops.
He posed for selfies with worshipers and prayed before the image of the Virgin of Chiquinquira, Colombia’s patron saint, which was flown to Bogota by helicopter for the occasion.
Francis was scheduled later to celebrate a mass for 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.