Colombia. To draft a new life for the country.

The post-conflict, reconciliation and forgiveness, to overcome  the feeling of hatred and vengeance, in order to plan for a different future. We talked with  Msgr. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, president of the Colombian Conference of Bishops.

It took four years of negotiations in Havana between representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government. The Peace Agreement that was to put an end to more than half-a-century of armed conflict was signed on Aug. 24, 2016. But the results from the referendum of Oct. 2, in which the citizenry rejected what was agreed on, put the prospect of peace in danger. A new agreement was signed on Nov. 24, which was endorsed by Congress on 1 December. A demobilization process of the guerrilla members around 7,000 gathered at so-called Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization (ZVTNs) and began laying aside their weapons and transitioning back into society, a process that is scheduled to finish on June 1.

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Msgr. Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, who has played important role as mediator in the long negotiations between the government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC, feels that it is important for the people of Colombia tounderstand the significance of this process, specially the post-conflict. I have given myself a task: design an image that simple people can understand. The post-conflict is like constructing a new house. What is new about the different rooms? The answer is that each one has something that was not there before; for example, the room of politics. This room needs the element of inclusion, an element that has been absent along these years. All of those who were excluded from politics took up arms against the state”.

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“ Let’s take the economy – he continued – in Colombia, the country only gives advantages to a small group of Colombians. This is an economy lacking the element of solidarity. Following the signing of the peace agreement, we now have to invent a solidarity economy, something the Catholic Church has always been after. And it has to be the same for the other sectors: education, culture”.
The bishop underlined the example of the ‘house’. He said: “ A house built without cement will crumble down. There are three types of cement: first, the ethical, which obviously has to do with honesty. As in anywhere else in the world, corruption is a very damaging element. This deeply damages the lives of all Colombians. This is why ethical cement is needed. In the second place, spiritual cement is also needed. It is forgiveness and reconciliation. Lastly, we have the cultural cement. It is necessary to have a culture of life, of rights, of human relationships. The cultural cement is highly important to build this new society”.  More than 220.00 have died and 6 million people have been internally displaced by the civil war which began in 1964.

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Msgr. Quiroga remembered that: “The first cause for the rebellion of the FARC against the state was its exclusion from politics. It was not because of poverty or any other motives. The fact is that, at being excluded from politics, they could not work in other aspects of life. Today, the objective is to get integrated into politics”. He pointed out: “the peace accord signed on August 23, has not much to do with political elements, something given for granted, as it is about all the rest of the aspects of Colombian life. In the first place, the aspect of land, land extremely concentrated in the hands of few people, who are definitely not the poor. And then we have the agricultural problem. All of this has been studied in the peace agreement that has been approved. One thing is to talk about it; something different is to put it into practice. Large amounts of money are needed to do this. Fortunately, many countries have started to help”.

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Another important element in the peace agreement was about the number of victims and their families. The bishop wanted to remind that, “people have the possibility to file a demand against the state for the damages and harmful consequences suffered, because the war was against the state. This is included in the peace agreement. In the second place, in the Peace Court each guerrilla member is obligated to tell what he or she knows regarding disappearances, deaths, and kidnappings. If they want a sentence reduction, they must tell everything they know. This is the same as happened in South Africa, where the reconciliation commission said: ‘If you tell the truth, it will go in your favor; otherwise, justice will fall on you to the fullest extent of the law’.
“The victims, many victims, can get answers in terms of the truth, which is what they ask for: ‘What happened to my son? What happened to my husband? Where is the body? If he was killed, we want to be able to at least hold a funeral’. All of this is to close the cycle of suffering. If it is not closed, everything is left up in the air and the experiencing of this unbearable suffering, continues. So, on one side a role will be played by the Peace Court [judicial body], and on the other side the Truth Commission [extrajudicial body]”, the bishop said.

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Lastly, “we have to invite the victims to perform an act of courage: to forgive in order to not be victims anymore, because this is not the future they deserve. They should not be sad victims, but instead people who have drafted a life project, a different future; people who, with God’s help, will win back the peace and serenity they deserve”.
“ We can summarize in three  important words. Truth for the victims; justice because the guerrillas must answer for what they did; and forgiveness, which is the internal motivation of a person to be happy again”, the bishops said. (P.M.)


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