The delegate for the Colombian Bishops’ Conference (CEC) for Church-state relations, Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao Gaviria, explained the role of the Church as part of the monitoring and verification mechanism of the cease-fire between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group.

The 180-day cease-fire will go into effect Aug. 3 following what was agreed upon in the third round of talks that took place in Havana, Cuba, as one more step in the efforts to achieve a peace agreement and end more than six decades of violence.

Horacio Guerrero, a member of the government delegation, explained to Caracol Radio that during this period acts that violate the freedoms of people, such as armed checkpoints, kidnappings, and extortions, may not be committed.

In addition, there will be periodic reports from the monitoring and verification mechanism that the United Nations is also part of.

In a statement released July 25 by the CEC, Henao explained that among the functions of the Church will be to accompany and help “establish bridges between the parties involved in the conflict.”

“The Church is part of the monitoring. The Church, in her dioceses, does not evaluate events, does not make judgments. What the Church does with its pastoral mission is to establish a link with the communities so that they can express themselves. … There will be priests who will provide this service of listening, encouraging, accompanying, avoiding, preventing further violence, and preventing the cease-fire from breaking down,” he said.

After noting that the Church attends the talks to accompany them and not as a negotiating party, he stressed that this cease-fire begins with the very clear perspective of “avoiding aggressive actions” between the ELN and the country’s military forces. “It is not the whole package that we would like, which is why it has been said that this cease-fire will be progressive,” Henao said.

The monsignor explained in this sense that the objective is that later on the cease-fire can also “respond to other outcries,” emergencies, and events that affect the communities. They are undoubtedly “painful and serious, but it starts with an important step to protect human lives.”

The Church and other conflicts

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The conflict with the ELN is not the only one that exists in Colombia. In the port of Buenaventura, the Catholic Church also accompanies the negotiation processes between the government and Los Chotas and Los Espartanos gangs.

“There is talk of other negotiations with those who are called dissidents. In short, there are several negotiations underway and to the extent that the Church is invited, this will be studied and, pastorally, the decisions about the case will be made, always from that perspective, under the Church’s own doctrine of peace, encouraged and accompanied by pastoral principles,” Henao said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.