.- In an address given at the Vatican Friday, Pope Benedict applauded efforts of the Central American nation of Colombia toward greater peace and reconciliation, but stressed the long road ahead as the country seeks to combat numerous social and moral ills.
The address came as the Holy Father received the official diplomatic letters of Juan Gomez Martinez, Colombia’s new ambassador to the Holy See.
The Pope noted that the country’s history had been “distinguished by its Catholic identity," a fact made clear by "the appreciation shown by the faithful to bishops and their collaborators as they seek to uphold the traditions and virtues inherited from their forebears."
Pope Benedict went on to laud Colombia's efforts "in search of peace and reconciliation, and its commitment to encourage progress and more solid democratic institutions." He also encouraged further steps toward the nation’s social stability, education and fight against poverty.
The Pope tempered his praise with words of warning against widespread problems which, he said, threaten "the dignity of people and the unity of families, evenly balanced economic development and an appropriate quality of life."
He also emphasized the Church’s role in combating the country’s social ills, saying that “the Catholic Church will ceaselessly continue to proclaim the inalienable greatness of human dignity. It is also necessary to appeal to the sense of responsibility of lay people in legislative bodies ... to ensure that laws always reflect principles and values in keeping with natural law, and that they promote the genuine common good."
He further promised the Church’s aid to the “most needy - and especially to internally displaced peoples who are so numerous in Colombia - and to victims of violence.”
“In this way,” he said, charitable institutions “also bear witness to the efforts of the Church which, ever within the limits of her own mission and of the circumstances being experienced by the nation, is architect of communion and hope."
The Holy Father turned particular attention to victims of what he called "the cruel scourge of kidnapping, which so seriously affects the dignity and rights of individuals,” calling for its end. “I accompany in prayer”, he added,” all those who are unjustly denied their freedom and express my closeness to the families, trusting in their imminent release.