Colombia celebrates peace and a Jesuit ‘champion of human rights’

President Santos and Timochenko at the signing of the peace treaty in Colombia (Xinhau/Jhon Paz)
President Santos and Timochenko at the signing of the peace treaty in Colombia (Xinhau/Jhon Paz)

This Sunday (2 October), the people of Colombia are due to ratify the peace treaty that brings to an end a civil war that has lasted for more than half a century. The treaty was signed on Monday, the eve of the Feast of St Peter Claver SJ (1581-1654), the Jesuit who rescued thousands of Africans from slavery in the 17th century and who is commemorated in the church that bears his name in Cartagena de Indias.

The signatories at Cartagena on 26 September were the leader of the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Timochenko, and President Juan Manuel Santos, who described St Peter Claver as “a great champion of human rights”. The event was also celebrated at the Church of St Peter Claver at which the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, representing Pope Francis, preached.

Over the past 52 years of civil war, around 220,000 Colombians have been murdered and a further five million have been forcibly ejected off their land. The Catholic Church was asked to mediate by both the FARC and the Government of Colombia; and last year, it arranged for 12 groups of victims of the conflict to attend the peace talks in Cuba where they spoke of their suffering face to face with representatives of the state and the FARC.

‘The wounds of the heart’

Preaching in the Church of St Peter Claver in Cartagena de Indias, Cardinal Parolin said: "The root causes of this conflict which in recent decades has torn apart this country can be found in the wounds of the heart.” Stressing that faith is opposed to hurting the dignity of a fellow human being, he added: “Religion leads to listening, to understanding and to recognising the reasons for and the value of the other."

The peace treaty that will be ratified on Sunday was signed with a pen made from a bullet. And President Santos acknowledged the major public role the Church in Colombia has played in securing peace in the country, calling St Peter Claver, "a great champion of human rights". The Jesuit missionary priest from Spain was known as ‘the apostle of slaves’ and today is the patron of human rights in Colombia. He devoted his apostolic life ministering to African slaves in Cartagena de Indias, one of the major ports in South America used for slave trading.St Peter Claver SJ, apostle of slaves

The President of the Bishops' Conference of Colombia, Archbishop Monsignor Luis Augusto Castro of Tunja, said that the foundations for rebuilding the country need to be ethics and spiritual renewal, forgiveness and reconciliation. "We need politics that include the poor and an economy based on the values of solidarity," he said, adding that the vision is "inspired by Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace" and is based on "the firm foundation of the Gospel".

The Director of Caritas Colombia, Monsignor Hector Fabio Henao, spoke of his “great joy” at the signing of the peace treaty. “It is the first fundamental step towards building lasting peace, which will require strong government commitment and full participation and attentive civil society,” he said. “The Catholic Church has accompanied rural communities and human rights defenders closely on this long and painful path and will continue to support peace-building processes to ensure that the atrocities of the past are not repeated, that reconciliation is a reality, and human dignity of all those involved in the conflict is restored.”