The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Ruben Salazar, called on rebel groups in the country last week to respect the lives of priests and religious, who in many cases are the only sources of hope for victims of Colombia’s decades-long civil conflict.
Bishop Salazar noted that Colombia has an extremely high rate of bishops and priests killed as a result of the armed conflict, with two bishops, 67 priests, 8 religious and three seminarians being murdered since 1984.
According to Father Dario Echeverri, general secretary of the National Reconciliation Commission, the work of priests in the areas of conflict must be recognized because although they suffer like the rest of the civil population, they cannot rest because they are the only ray of hope for the community.
The Colombian daily El Tiempo quoted Father Echeverri as explaining that while “analysts watch the conflict from their desks, priests do understand what is happening with the Colombian war, because they also live and suffer through it.” For this reason, he called on the armed groups, such as the FARC, to respect the basic norms of the International Humanitarian Law with regards to the mission of priests.
Priests in Regions of Conflict
The newspaper also published the testimonies of two priests who minister in areas of conflict.
Father Jose Alexander Londono, who is pastor in the town of Bebedo, said, “Living in a place like this demands you fill yourself with spiritual strength in order to accompany and journey with these people who are suffering and are scared. You also experience that fear.” He said he has never been threatened or pressured and that poverty makes the issue of the armed conflict more intense.
For his part, Father Heyler Giraldo, associate pastor in Reinera Pesquera, said priests minister “to the displaced, to the victims of land mines.” “There are some places where there is no teacher or health care clinic, but there is a priest who not only prays but also leads community and social activity,” he said.