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‘Amoris Laetitia’ is built on Thomist morality, pope says, many ‘respectable’ comments on it are ‘wrong’

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Seeing, understanding and engaging with people’s real lives does not “bastardize” theology, rather it is what is needed to guide people toward God, Pope Francis told Jesuits in Colombia.

“The theology of Jesus was the most real thing of all; it began with reality and rose up to the Father,” he said during a private audience Sept. 10 in Cartagena, Colombia. The Rome-based Jesuit-run journal, La Civilta Cattolica, published a transcript from the meeting Sept. 28. The journal provided its own translations of the original Spanish remarks. Read more »

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Forgive your aggressors, pope tells victims of Colombia’s civil war

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Catholic News Service

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — If just one victim of Colombia’s civil war forgives his or her aggressor, it can set off a chain reaction of hope for reconciliation and peace, Pope Francis said.

Celebrating Mass Sept. 8 in Villavicencio, a city filled with those who fled their homes during the war and with former fighters trying to start over, Pope Francis pleaded for honesty and courage.

Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives to celebrate Mass at Catama field in Villavicencio, Colombia, Sept. 8. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

At the beginning of the Mass, he held up two heroic examples of those who gave their lives to “rise up out of the swamp of violence and bitterness”: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Colombian Marxist guerrillas in 1989, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez, who was killed at the start of the Colombian civil war in 1948.

Pope Francis beatified the two at the Mass, which was celebrated in the middle of a broad field, typical of the area’s cattle ranching terrain.

In his homily, the pope acknowledged that, during 52 years of war, many at the Mass suffered horrors.

“How many of you can tell of exiles and grief,” he said.

The Christian call to reconciliation is not something abstract, the pope said. “If it were, then it would only bring sterility and greater distance.” It requires acknowledging the truth and letting victims speak.

And “when victims overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance, they become the most credible protagonists for the process of building peace,” he said. “What is needed is for some to courageously take the first step in that direction, without waiting for others to do so. We need only one good person to have hope. And each of us can be that person.

“This does not mean ignoring or hiding differences and conflicts. This is not to legitimize personal and structural injustices,” Pope Francis insisted. Reconciliation must be accompanied by a firm commitment to change the inequalities and behaviors that fueled the war for decades.

Celebrating Mass in an area known as the gateway to the Amazon, the pope said he could not ignore the need for reconciliation with the natural environment.

“It is not by chance that even on nature we have unleashed our desire to possess and subjugate,” he said. To the delight of many in the crowd, he quoted the famous Colombian singer and peace activist, Juanes: “The trees are weeping, they are witnesses to so many years of violence. The sea is brown, a mixture of blood and earth.”

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Defend life, equality, unity, pope tells Colombians at Mass in Bogota

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Consolidating peace in Colombia will mean overcoming “the darkness” of inequality and a lack of respect for human life, Pope Francis said.

“Here, as in other places, there is a thick darkness which threatens and destroys life,” the pope said in his homily at a late-afternoon Mass Sept. 7 in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar Park.

Pope Francis passes Colombia’s flag with a rosary on it as he greets the crowd before celebrating Mass at Simon Bolivar Park in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Colombian authorities said more than 1.1 million people gathered in the park for the Mass. Many of them were soaked in a rainstorm before the pope arrived, but as Mass began, bits of blue sky began to appear.

Still, preaching about the Gospel story of Jesus’ first encountering Simon Peter after the fishermen had fished all night without luck, Pope Francis spoke about the “turmoil and darkness” of the sea as a symbol for “everything that threatens human existence and that has the power to destroy it.”

For Colombia, just starting to recover from more than 50 years of civil war, and for many other nations as well, the pope said, the threats come from “the darkness of injustice and social inequality; (and) the corrupting darkness of personal and group interests that consume in a selfish and uncontrolled way what is destined for the good of all.”

The threats include “the darkness of disrespect for human life which daily destroys the life of many innocents, whose blood cries out to heaven; the darkness of thirst for vengeance and the hatred which stains the hands of those who would right wrongs on their own authority; the darkness of those who become numb to the pain of so many victims,” he said. But “Jesus scatters and destroys all this darkness.”

In society, in politics and in the church, Pope Francis said, people can get “tangled up in endless discussions” about what went wrong and whose fault it is. But the only way forward is to follow Jesus, obeying his command to cast out the nets, which means taking responsibility for personal conversion and changing the world.

“Jesus invites us to put out into the deep, he prompts us to take shared risks, to leave behind our selfishness and to follow him,” Pope Francis told the crowd, which included Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and his wife.

Jesus wants people to leave behind their fears, “which paralyze us and prevent us (from) becoming artisans of peace, promoters of life.”

The people of Colombia, he said, are called to continue their conversion to peace and respect for all the nation’s people. That can happen only by promoting unity, “working for the defense and care of human life, especially when it is most fragile and vulnerable: in a mother’s womb, in infancy, in old age, in conditions of incapacity and in situations of social marginalization.”

Jesus calls people “out of darkness and bring us to light and to life,” the pope said. “He calls everyone, so that no one is left to the mercy of the storms,” asking the strong “to carry the most fragile and promote their rights.”

After the Mass, Pope Francis was scheduled to greet bishops from neighboring countries, including from Venezuela, which is in the midst of a social, political and economic crisis.

Venezuelan Cardinals Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas and Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida told reporters Pope Francis also invited them to discuss the crisis with him.

“We have the highest inflation in the world, an inflation of 700,000-800,000 percent,” Cardinal Urosa said. It is “a truly desperate situation. There are people who eat the garbage; yes, there are people who eat garbage, and there are people who die because there is no medicine.”

He said the bishops also wanted to tell the pope more about “the serious political situation, because the government is doing everything possible to establish a state system, totalitarian and Marxist.”

Cardinal Porras added, “I think that this meeting is a real gift that the pope is giving to all of the Venezuelan people through the bishops who are here.”

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Pope tells bishops in Colombia to work for peace as pastors, not politicians

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Catholic News Service

Quoting celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pope Francis told the country’s bishops he knows “it is easier to begin a war than to end one” and that, to succeed, Colombia needs bishops who are pastors, not politicians.

“All of us know that peace calls for a distinct kind of moral courage,” the pope told the bishops Sept. 7. “War follows the basest instincts of our heart, whereas peace forces us to rise above ourselves.”

Pope Francis greets Colombian bishops at Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez’s residence in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Welcoming Pope Francis to the meeting, Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota told the pope, “Our homeland is struggling to put behind it a history of violence that has plunged it into death for decades,” but the process of building peace “has become a source of political polarization that every day sows division, confrontation and disorientation. We are a country marked by deep inequalities and inequities that demand radical changes in all fields of social life. But it does not seem we are willing to pay the price required.”

One temptation, the pope said, is for the bishops and priests to get involved in the country’s heated partisan political debate.

Resist, the pope told them. The country needs pastors. It needs ministers who know firsthand “how marred is the face of this country,” how deep are the wounds and how intensely it needs to experience healing and forgiveness.

“Colombia has need of you so that it can show its true face, filled with hope despite its imperfections,” he said. It needs the church’s help “so that it can engage in mutual forgiveness despite wounds not yet completely healed, so that it can believe that another path can be taken, even when force of habit causes the same mistakes to be constantly repeated.”

Finding a magic formula to fix problems is a temptation, Pope Francis said. But the church’s ministers “are not mechanics or politicians, but pastors.”

The church does not need special favors from politicians, he said. It only needs the freedom to speak and to minister.

But it also needs internal unity, the pope told the bishops. “So continue to seek communion among yourselves. Never tire of building it through frank and fraternal dialogue, avoiding hidden agendas like the plague.”

Although he said he had “no recipes” and would not “leave you a list of things to do,” Pope Francis made two specific requests of the bishops: Pay more attention to “the Afro-Colombian roots of your people,” and show more concern for the church, the people and the environment in southern Colombia’s Amazon region.

The region holds “an essential part of the remarkable biodiversity of this country,” and protecting it is “a decisive test of whether our society, all too often prey to materialism and pragmatism, is capable of preserving what it freely received, not to exploit it but to make it bear fruit.”

In a speech that included several references to the duty to defend human life, Pope Francis said he wondered if society could learn from the indigenous people of the Amazon “the sacredness of life, respect for nature and the recognition that technology alone is insufficient to bring fulfillment to our lives and to respond to our most troubling questions.”

“I am told that in some native Amazon languages the idea of ‘friend’ is translated by the words, ‘my other arm.’ May you be the other arm of the Amazon,” he said. “Colombia cannot amputate that arm without disfiguring its face and its soul.”

A few hours later, Pope Francis met with members of the executive committee of the Latin American bishops’ council, known as CELAM, and focused on the ongoing efforts to evangelize the continent by means of “closeness and encounter.”

To be evangelizing disciples, the pope said, Christians must be willing to journey like Jesus did. “When he meets people, he draws near to them. When he draws near to them, he talks to them. When he talks to them, he touches them with his power. When he touches them, he brings them healing and salvation. His aim in constantly setting out is to lead the people he meets to the Father.”

The church and its members must be concrete and unafraid of listening to and accompanying real people with real challenges.

Unlike the colonizers of old or exploiters of today, he said, “the church is not present in Latin America with her suitcases in hand, ready, like so many others over time, to abandon it after having plundered it.”

The colonizers looked with “superiority and scorn” on the “mestizo face” of the continent’s Catholics, the pope said, while Catholics themselves are called to celebrate that diversity of races and cultures the same way they honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Aparecida, both of which have mixed-race features.

Insisting the bishops do more to support, educate and appreciate lay Catholics, Pope Francis spoke particularly of the contribution of women.

“Please, do not let them be reduced to servants of our ingrained clericalism,” he said.

     

Contributing to this story was David Agren.

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Pope Francis tells Colombian officials to pursue peace through social inclusion

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Catholic News Service

BOGOTA, Colombia — Pope Francis urged Colombians to put aside prejudice and pursue peace through social inclusion, fighting inequality and paying attention to the plight of the country’s most marginalized populations, such as campesinos, Afro-Colombians and indigenous peoples. Read more »

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Villavicencio: Colombian city of ‘victims and victimizers’ on pope’s itinerary

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Catholic News Service

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia — People in need in this city set in the heart of Colombia’s cattle country line up outside the Pope Francis food bank, a warehouse built with a donation from the pontiff.

Father Carlos Ricardo, director of social ministries for the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, says the facility meets a great need in a region where people have been thrown off their land in the violence afflicting Colombia and have had to start over in shanties built around Villavicencio.

Father Carlos Ricardo greets participants Sept. 5 in a program for special-need adults in the Archdiocese of Villavicencio, Colombia. (CNS photo/David Agren)

“It’s a city of settlements, made up of people that had to leave their land due to war,” Father Ricardo said. “Villavicencio is made up of victims and victimizers. They’re both here. There are people displaced that lost their homes, the things that they had. There are also people being reinserted into society from the guerrilla groups and paramilitaries.”

Pope Francis arrives Sept. 6 in Colombia for a five-day visit. Among the four cities he will visit is Villavicencio, where he will celebrate Mass for an estimated 700,000 people, including indigenous Colombians, and will later offer prayers for reconciliation with victims of violence attending from all corners of Colombia.

Promoting reconciliation is a recurring theme in the pope’s trip and a priority among Catholics in Colombia after five decades of armed conflicts and the signing of a peace accord between the government and the main guerrilla group.

Villavicencio, 75 miles southeast of the capital, Bogota, is the gateway to remote regions such as the Amazon, and Pope Francis is also expected to promote reconciliation with creation and speak of environmental issues.

Church officials say the trip to Villavicencio, population 500,000 and growing quickly over the past decade as displaced persons arrived, is heavy on symbolism and meant to send messages on topics important for Colombia and the church as a whole.

Villavicencio “was the heart of the conflict for many years in this region, with many different armed groups,” said Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, director of Caritas Colombia. It’s a city where Pope Francis “will find victims of the armed conflict.”

“It’s also on the road to the Amazon. The pope can point toward the Amazon, toward its inhabitants, (the) destruction of the jungle over the decades … and make a reference to reconciliation with nature,” he said.

Locals call Villavicencio the gateway to the “Llano,” the plains of Colombia. With an abundance of available land, Father Ricardo says the region attracted the displaced persons from around the country, who had to start over from scratch after losing their properties.

Though close to the capital, Villavicencio is described a bottleneck for those traveling to the southern parts of Colombia. It’s also the place where the “rest of Colombia begins,” vast swaths of rugged and sparsely populated terrain, along with the Amazon region, an area taken advantage of by guerrillas, who used its thick vegetation for cover.

The area has been largely forgotten by the government. Paramilitaries, often paid by palm growers, inflicted violence on vulnerable populations. The Catholic Church has played a role, providing services where the state has been absent.

That work has not always been appreciated by those in positions of power. Priests ministering to populations with unpopular political opinions or areas occupied by guerrilla groups were seen with suspicion or as promoting liberation theology.

“There have been murders of human rights leaders … and priests for defending human rights by the state itself,” said Father Ricardo. “We work with the poor, giving them the word of God, but (elites) thought that we were subversive, that if we were not with them, we were against them … that we’re spreading a revolutionary mentality.”

While in Villavicencio, Pope Francis will beatify two martyrs: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca, who was murdered by Marxist guerrillas in 1989 in an area rife with conflict, and Father Pedro Maria Ramirez. The latter was hacked to death by a machete-wielding mob in 1948 after the assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, whose Liberal Party was often scorned by the Catholic Church.

In this region, the peace accord signed by the federal government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is still viewed suspiciously by many, including some in the church hierarchy.

Father Ricardo expressed hope the pope’s trip to Villavicencio would “set a single direction” for the church to follow in the attempts to promote peace in Colombia.

Reconciliation will not be easy, but some in Villavicencio appear willing.

“Forgiving is hard,” said Jeydi Gonzalez, a program director with the archdiocesan social ministry in Villavicencio, whose father was among six men murdered by paramilitaries. Making forgiveness harder is that provisions under the peace accords mean one of her father’s killers, four others implicated were killed, will have his sentence cut from 50 years to seven years.

“I feel very happy” the pope is coming to Colombia “but also anxious to know what he is going to say,” said Gonzalez, who credits accompaniment from a priest after her father’s murder for helping her family at a time when others in their village viewed them suspiciously. “They stigmatized us,” she said, because they thought her father had to have been involved with the guerrillas.

The priest’s intervention also provided her with an opportunity to continue studying and earn a master’s degree from a Canadian university.

Gonzalez said she hoped Pope Francis “can help bring home a message that speaks to our reality, the context which Colombia is experiencing.”

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