By Elise Harris
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin praised the signing of a peace agreement in Colombia on Monday, telling Colombians that a better future is possible, while also stressing that reconciliation is a commitment everyone must make, and which begins with those who have suffered.
Cardinal Parolin spoke from Cartagena, where he said Mass Sept. 26 to mark the signing of the peace agreement between the country’s government and FARC rebels. He was present on behalf of Pope Francis for the signing of the agreement, where attendees dressed in white to symbolize peace.
“You can build a different future in which you can coexist without massacring each other and which possesses different convictions,” the cardinal said Sept. 26.
He stressed that while recent decades have been challenging, it’s possible to achieve a brighter future “within the framework of the respect of democratic rules, of human dignity, and of the Catholic tradition of this great nation.”
Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Colombia’s civil war. The Marxist FARC rebels and the Colombian government had been engaged in peace talks in Cuba since 2012.
The deal brings a much-awaited end to the 52-year conflict. It was signed Sept. 26 in front of a large group of diplomatic delegations and will be submitted to a popular vote by the Colombian people Oct. 2.
The accord, which will incorporate some of FARC’s leadership into the government in exchange for their disarmament and renunciation of kidnapping and drug trafficking, has been welcomed by many, but some – including former president Alvaro Uribe – charge that it is too lenient on the FARC.
In his homily for the Mass honoring the agreement, Cardinal Parolin said that while the deal marks the end of a long negotiation, it also signals the beginning of “a process, still open, of change which requires the support and respect of all Colombians.”
Colombia “must ease the pain of so many of its citizens who are humiliated and oppressed by violence, it must stop the hatred and change the course of history in order to build a better future within just and strong institutions,” he said.
The most effective way to do this, he said, is to start by rebuilding “the dignity of those who suffer” and have suffered due to the conflict. However, in order to do this, one must draw near to these people “without time restrains, to the point of identifying oneself with them.”
When it comes to true peace, the kind for which Colombia yearns, goes beyond “the necessary pursuit of certain structures or conventions,” and centers on the “reconstruction of the person,” the cardinal said.
“In fact, it’s in the wounds of the human heart where the deepest causes of the conflict that in recent decades has torn this country apart are found.”
Only God is able to give us the strength to address and overcome these problems, Cardinal Parolin said, explaining that the signing of the peace agreement shouldn’t be considered as just “one more event,” but as a show of confidence in the authorities and all who follow the situation with prayer.
“We ask God to grant us the heroism of solidarity, which is necessary to fill, in truth and in justice, the abyss of the evil produced by violence,” he said.
Colombia has experienced “in its own flesh that the ambition of money and power, and, because of this, the exploitation of man by man, forced displacement, violence and the disregard of human dignity of the victims, among other scourges, constantly haunt mankind,” he said.
The cardinal closed his homily by praying to God “for the future of this dear people,” and for the journey the Colombian people will continue to make “on paths of truth, justice and peace.”
In comments to EWTN News on the signing of the accord, Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos praised the agreement as “something positive” that comes at the end of a long, violent conflict, but he also cautioned that true peace goes beyond paper, and is rooted in goodwill and forgiveness.
Cardinal Castrillon, who was born in Medellín and served the Church in Colombia from 1952 to 1996, is known to have spoken out vocally against the violence and terrorism of the conflict, encouraging the Church to help in peace efforts.
“I believe only in a signature that has the harmony of the Trinitarian God … I do not believe in a peace that doesn’t forgive; this is not the peace of Christ; I do not believe in a peace that deceives and is made for political gain,” said the president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, explaining that a superficial peace which continues to destroy is not real.
Peace, he said, implies a renouncement from weapons and drug trafficking, “which are powerful in this world,” as well as an authentic desire to respect the other party.
“If in the moment that of signing I don’t think you should be respected, this signature means nothing,” he warned, but said “we are happy” that an agreement has finally been reached, because “among many negative things, this can also be something positive.”