La Candelaria district in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC
A leader in Colombia’s administration in Bogota at the third Global Gathering of the Global Christian Forum (GCF) praised the Christian community and religious groups for the role they have paid in the South American country’s peace process.
The Colombian Deputy Minister of Political Relations Héctor Olimpo Espinosa Oliver offered greetings at the opening of the April 23-28 gathering in Bogota drawing more than 250 church leaders from around the world.
Introducing Oliver, the outgoing Secretary of the GCF Rev. Dr Larry Miller said, “Wherever we are at home in the world, we are aware of Colombia and Colombians — and not only when your football team humiliates its international opponents, as it did recently in France, the country where I live.”
“We follow closely the unfolding peace process. We give attention to the developments in favour of religious liberty,” said Miller,
Oliver spoke of the Colombian peace process for which the country’s President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate and sign peace accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, after 52 years of violent conflict.
Miller said there is something “very positive” to be witnessed by the global gathering in front of him.
“All the churches and faith-based organization have contributed significantly with their sacrifices and their many contributions to peace building and reconciliation,” said Oliver.
‘Influence of churches’
He spoke of the “influence of churches” and their role in economic inclusion and in “debate, orientation, listening, training, dialogue, prevention, so that our brothers and sisters can walk the good path, the path of goodness.”
In his message the general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said “We hope and pray that the peace process in Colombia will continue and will lead to just peace for the people of this country who have suffered from violence and war for more than 60 years.”
He said, “We are working closely together with our member church, the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (PCC) and our local partners Justapaz of the Mennonite Church and the ecumenical platform DiPAZ, the Interchurch Dialogue for Peace.”
Tveit said that visits by a WCC team “have shown that this is a very critical moment in the Colombian peace process.”
He noted that while the peace accord has been signed by the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) “after six years of negotiations in Cuba, the negotiations with the ELN are still in process, and other smaller guerilla groups have not been directly addressed.”
The WCC leader also alluded to reports demonstrating that violence is still prevalent in many areas with the killing of community leaders.
“Displaced people who want to return to their land are being threatened and attacked.
“The current post peace-accord context in Colombia sees a unique Truth Commission that seeks to examine the root causes of complex situations of violence. But other points of the peace accord are only partially implemented, and the government does not deliver on all of its promises,” said Tveit.
He observed that despite the efforts of the ecumenical group DiPaz, part of the Colombian population view with suspicion churches that are not reconciled among themselves and sometimes argue against each other.
‘Ministry of reconciliation’
“Ours is the ministry of reconciliation. ‘Let mutual love continue’ – also when we address the issues that are still separating us so that we come closer and closer to each other because we come closer and closer to Christ among us,” said Tveit.
Lorena Rios Cuellar, Director of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Colombian government, who is a member of Assemblies of God said the “interreligious sector” in “time of reconciling and constructional change has a historical role to play that it has never had before.”
She said, “Reconstruction of the new Colombia is on the churches shoulders. So, the church has to understand and take that role very seriously.”
Rios Cuellar said that the churches in Colombia have supported peace in the country long before the peace accords.
“At one stage there were a lot of concerns that churches had about the accords.”
She said, however, that in nine of the 32 Colombian provinces she has visited, the “churches I have seen are all united” around the peace process goal, “and this wasn’t necessarily the case just a few years ago.”,
The Colombian official said, “I am excited to see that they understand that this is a moment when they need to lead on reconciliation.”
For Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, “It is providential that the Global Christian Forum is here.
“Because we talk about reconciliation between the churches, we talk about purifying our image of the other, in other words of the people who are in opposition if you wish,” said Farrell.
He said he is always convinced that these are the same principles and values that help civil society and pollical society “to solve the problems that create tensions in the countries”.
“If we can apply this in the political way, then I think many of the problems that are ongoing that are still taking place, even here in Colombia with the peace, could be seen in a new light. And maybe there would be a new impetus to really reach a final agreement,” said Farrell.