Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, Archbishop of Bogotá and President of the Colombian Bishops Conference, responded to the surprising request of the National Liberation Amy (ELN) for the mediation of the Church in an eventual dialogue with the government by calling on the guerrilla group to demonstrate its desire for peace with concrete actions.
The ELN is the second largest guerrilla group in the country, after the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), and it also is currently holding dozens of people hostage.
The ELN’s central command sent a letter to the bishops who were gathered for their plenary assembly calling for dialogue on the humanitarian crisis facing the country.
Furthermore, the letter calls for a return to “a national dialogue with wide participation,” and in an unexpected reversal of their usual position, the ELN called for “a political solution to the conflict as the way in which to bring peace to the country.”
Responding to the letter, Cardinal Rubiano said the bishops were open to facilitating the national dialogue called for the ELN but he warned that the statements of the letter should be accompanied by “concrete proposals and actions for peace to keep the discussion going.”
According to the Cardinal, the letter is a sign of hope because “there is true resolve on both sides to negotiate, and the Church is willing to continue providing an opportunity for dialogue.”
“There is always room for peace, it needs to be sought out, and we can be and are willing to help, to accompany both sides so that peace can be established,” he said.
In its letter, the ELN recognizes the work of the Catholic Church, its “willingness to find solutions to the humanitarian crisis which the people of Santa Marta are facing,” and its participation in efforts to bring about a national reconciliation.
Last December, representatives of the Catholic Church were key in obtaining the freedom of foreign nationals who were kidnapped September 12 by ELN in northern Colombia.