“Hope also for those who have done evil”

The reconciliation meeting in Villavincencio, Colombia, was an urgent concern for the pope. "From the first day, I have longed for the moment of our meeting," he said of what was probably the most important encounter of his trip.

At a major reconciliation meeting in Villavicencio, Colombia, Pope Francis thanked victims and perpetrators of the civil war for their very personal testimonies. He was here to listen to people and learn from them, he said, visibly moved Friday afternoon (local time) in a park in the major city that was once an epicenter of the conflict.

Previously, at the celebration there, four people had reported the suffering they had experienced or also inflicted on others. An ex-guerrilla and a member of the paramilitaries reported from the perspective of the perpetrators; from the perspective of the victims, a mother of four after a guerrilla mine explosion, and a woman whose closest relatives were murdered by paramilitaries. They all reported how they try to cope, to forgive or to make atonement.

Tears in the hall

The pope's 34-minute address moved the four witnesses, as well as many listeners in the hall, to tears. As in the morning service, the afternoon service focused on the theme of reconciliation. In contrast to the previous Mass, representatives of other denominations and religions also took part here. Villavicencio Archbishop Oscar Urbina named examples of "the more than eight million victims" of decades of violence, 984.507 killed, 166.407 Disappeared, 16.340 murdered, 1.982 massacres, 35.092 Abducted, 19.684 Victims of sexual violence, 6.421 forced recruits as well as 12.000 people with amputations.

Francis admitted it was very difficult to break the cycle of hate, violence and counter-violence. But all are victims of this cycle, innocent and guilty alike. "There is hope even for those who have done evil," the Pope declared. But in the "regeneration process of the perpetrators", "justice must be done".

"Let's heal the pain"

Francis also addressed widespread skepticism about the peace process, saying it is "difficult to accept the change of those who have used cruel violence".

"Let us heal the pain and welcome every person who has committed crimes, confesses them, repents and commits to reparation," the pope said. However, he said, it is indispensable to do justice to the truth. This, of course, should not lead to revenge, but to sustainable reconciliation and forgiveness, he said.

Hate is not the last word

The celebration, which began with a staged and sung recital of the 85. Psalms (God's peace to his people) began, the "Cross of Bujaya" stood. In a bomb attack by FARC guerrillas on the village church on 2. May 2002, 86 people had been killed and many wounded. They had sought refuge in the church from fighting between guerrillas and paramilitaries. The body of the crucifix had both legs and both arms torn off at the time.

"To see Christ like this, mutilated and wounded, is a wake-up call to all of us," Pope said. "Broken and amputated" he shows "that he came to suffer for his people and with his people" and to teach "that hate does not have the last word, that love is stronger than death and violence.". At length, the Pope thanked the young people who recounted how they were recruited by the guerrillas and the woman whose husband and children were murdered one by one by paramilitaries. After each of the four testimonies, a candle was lit in front of the crucifix.

Pope blesses tree of reconciliation in Colombia

In a symbolic act, Pope Francis prayed in front of the "Cross of Reconciliation" in Villavicencio, Colombia. In the presence of President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife, he thus expressed his support for the peace process in the South American country on Friday afternoon (local time). The head of the Church from Argentina laid white flowers at the foot of the cross, whose pedestal bears the numbers of the victims of the armed conflict, and remained in silent prayer for a few minutes.

A "tree of peace" was also planted during the small ceremony. The pope passed the earth to two children; they were to symbolize the country's future without war and violence. The celebration was attended by 400 children as well as representatives of indigenous communities.

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