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Pope Francis Starts Five Day Trip to Colombia

07 Septembre 2017

Pope Francis opens the first full day in his Colombia visit on Thursday with messages to political leaders and citizens alike encouraging all to rally behind a peace process seeking an end for Latin America's longest-running conflict and to address the inequalities that fueled it.

The 80 year old pontiff's flight landed at the Catam military air base in Bogota after it was diverted due to Hurricane Irma.

Former fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, now a civilian political party, hope to use words instead of weapons to change Colombia.

Thousands upon thousands of people lined the streets of Bogota, Colombia, to welcome Pope Francis late yesterday.

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.

Francis' white popemobile was almost mobbed by jubilant crowds who flooded the 15-kilometer (9-mile) road into Bogota from the airport, and his security detail struggled to keep them at bay without a police barricade in sight. But now that the deal is signed, the guns silenced and 7,000 rebels are transitioning back to civilian life, Colombians face the even more hard challenge of coming together and eradicating the social disparities at the root of the half-century conflict.

Pope Francis is making his 20th foreign trip since becoming pontiff in 2014 and his fifth to his native Latin America. Clara Rojas, now a congresswoman, did not see her son again until she was rescued in 2008 when he was 3.

In his first day's public remarks, Francis pleaded with Colombians gathered outside the Vatican Embassy, saying "Don't ever lose happiness and hope".

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Francis will encourage reconciliation for Colombians as they prepare to receive 7,000 former FARC rebels into society and aim to fix divisions after a war that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions over five decades.

"It's fantastic, we're so happy, he radiates love, mercy, compassion, joy, peace for the Colombian people", said economist Maria Claudia Garavito, 57.

Now many in Colombia accuse the government of going easy on the rebels. A half-hour into the flight, he told journalists he wanted to "help Colombia in its path of peace".

The pope will not meet FARC leaders or the opposition.

The highlight of Francis' trip comes Friday with a meeting and prayer of reconciliation between victims of Colombia's conflict and former guerrillas in Villavicencio, a city south of Bogota surrounded by territory long held by the FARC.

He will also beatify two priests murdered during the years of warfare by the rebels and will declare them martyrs who were targeted because of hatred for the Roman Catholic Church. At least 79 people died and 100 were injured.

Ahead of Francis' arrival, Santos' government and the last remaining major rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, signed a bilateral cease-fire agreement, a significant step toward negotiating a permanent peace deal.

Francis is the third pope to visit the country after Pope Paul VI in 1968 and St. John Paul II in 1986.

Pope Francis Starts Five Day Trip to Colombia