Pope Francis meets with Colombian leaders in wake of peace deal

Pope Francis meets with Colombian senator Alvaro Uribe L and president Juan Manuel Santos C at the Vatican Dec 16 2016 CreditLOR CNA Pope Francis meets with Colombian senator Alvaro Uribe (L) and president Juan Manuel Santos (C) at the Vatican, Dec. 16, 2016. | L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis met Friday morning with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and former president Senator Álvaro Uribe Vélez, as the country works to finalize a peace accord which would end a 52-year conflict between the government and rebel groups.

Meeting first with Santos, "the discussions took place in an atmosphere of great cordiality, confirming the existing good relations between the Holy See and Colombia," a Dec. 16 communique from the Vatican stated.

"Appreciation was expressed for the Pope's support during the peace process, along with the hope that such peace be stable and lasting."

Pope Francis afterwards met with Uribe individually and then together with Santos, where they spoke about the "culture of encounter" and "emphasized the importance of sincere dialogue between all members of Colombian society," the communique related.

The importance of encounter and unity were also discussed in the meetings, as well as the contribution the Church will be able to offer in support of national reconciliation and education in forgiveness and harmony.

Santos also met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States.

The country is still working to finalize a peace accord between the Colombian government and the country's largest rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), following four years of negotiations in Cuba.

Pope Francis had expressed approval of a proposed peace deal when it was approved by Colombian government and FARC leaders in August, though it was narrowly rejected in a referendum Oct. 2.

The proposed peace accord was to have incorporated some of FARC's leadership into the government in exchange for their disarmament and renunciation of kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Many Colombians who voted against ratification charged that it was too lenient on FARC. Members who confessed to crimes were to have been given more lenient sentences, and not face conventional jail time. Opponents of the deal, including Uribe, wanted to renegotiate the agreement, with fewer concessions made to FARC.

Despite the deal's rejection in the national referendum, Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 7 for his efforts to secure peace with FARC.

A revised agreement was signed Nov. 24, and then sent to Colombia's Congress for approval, rather than being submitted to a popular vote. The legislature approved the reformed accord Nov. 30. Revised features of the agreement include the FARC's handing over assets to be used for reparations, a 10 year time limit for the transitional justice system, and FARC rebels' providing information about their drug trafficking.

Five regional leaders of the guerrilla movement have been expelled for refusing to demobilize and join the peace process.

Since 1964, as many as 260,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in Colombia's civil war. Pope Francis has voiced his support for an end to the violence in the country on several occasions.

In accepting the Nobel Prize Oct. 7, President Santos said he was "infinitely grateful for this honorable distinction."

"I accept it not on my behalf but on behalf of all Colombians, especially the millions of victims of this conflict which we have suffered for more than 50 years."

"It is for the victims and so that there not be a single new victim, not a single new casualty that we must reconcile and unite to culminate this process and begin to construct a stable and durable peace," he added.

More in Vatican

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.