Pope meets victims of Colombia flood disaster

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VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (AP) Developments on Friday, Sept. 8, about the pope’s visit to Colombia (all times Colombia Time).

  • 12:50 p.m.

Pope Francis met with survivors of a deadly avalanche of water that tore through the small Colombian city of Mocoa in April, killing some 200 people.

Francis donned a blue striped poncho given to him by the delegation of 10 residents of Mocoa, which is near Colombia’s border with Ecuador. They met with the pope after he celebrated a Mass in the central Colombian city of Villavincencio.

Francis had already sent his condolences to Mocoa after three rivers overflowed April 2, sending a wall of mud through the city while people slept.

  • 12:25 p.m.

Victims of a long-running conflict in Colombia filled up a park on the edge of the Amazon for a meeting of reconciliation with Francis, welcoming his message of the need to forgive and move on.

Relatives of a nurse who disappeared in 2004 arrived with photos of the woman, Marina Cristina Cobo Mahecha, draped around their necks. They carried a banner accusing the army, police, and paramilitary groups of having killed her.

Amid images of dismembered body parts, it read, “Somewhere in the Guaviare, the dreams of nurse Marina Christina Cobo Mahecha were buried.”

The woman’s mother said despite the pain, she forgave the assailants with the help of a priest.

Paulina Mahecha said that without that process of forgiveness “I would be dead.” In her words, “Forgiveness was not for them, but for me. When you forgive, you still have the scar of the wound, but yes, I have definitely forgiven from my heart.”

  • 11:05 a.m.

The pope urged victims of Colombia’s violent past to take a first step and forgive their assailants, saying any effort at peace will fail without a sincere commitment to reconciliation.

Francis pressed his call for forgiveness during a visit to a region bloodied by the half-century of armed conflict. It was  the highlight of his five-day trip to Colombia.

Francis was interrupted by applause from the crowd of tens of thousands at a Mass in Villavincencio. He praised Colombians harmed by the conflict who have “overcome the understandable temptation for vengeance” and instead worked for peace.

The pope said their choice in no way legitimized the injustices they suffered, but rather showed a willingness to build a peaceful future together.

“Every effort at peace without sincere commitment to reconciliation is destined to fail,” he warned.

  • 10:40 a.m.

Francis beatified two priests killed during Colombia’s years of political violence and guerrilla warfare, declaring them martyrs who died out of hatred for the Catholic faith.

The tens of thousands of people gathered for the pope’s Mass clapped as Francis moved the two men a step closer to possible sainthood.

The Rev. Pedro Ramirez was killed in the turbulent days following the 1948 assassination of a leftist firebrand Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a slaying that marked the start of Colombia’s descent into political violence.

Priests in the central Colombian town of Armero said Ramirez was pulled from the church, stripped naked, and attacked with machetes by an angry mob of Gaitan’s followers, who accused him of protecting their conservative enemies.

Bishop Jesus Jaramillo was gunned down in 1989 in the eastern city of Arauca by rebels from the National Liberation Army, with whom he clashed over theological grounds.

In beatifying them, Francis said they had “shed their blood for the love of the flock to whom they were entrusted.”

Even though Colombia is a deeply Roman Catholic country, it has produced only one saint: Mother Laura Montoya, who was canonized by Francis soon after he was made pope in 2013.

  • 9:30 a.m.

Francis’ message of reconciliation may finally be making some headway with Colombia’s two most powerful politicians, whose long-running feud has held up the nation’s prospects for peace.

The mayor of Medellin said both President Juan Manuel Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe would attend a papal Mass Saturday in his western city.

Just the fact the rivals would be sharing the VIP section together is a minor political miracle. Uribe has bitterly denounced Santos’ peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, likening it to an act of appeasement of terrorists.

Francis brought both together at the Vatican in December to broker an understanding. That led to negotiations in which Santos and the rebels eventually incorporated some of Uribe’s criticisms into a revised accord that was approved by congress.

But Uribe still opposes the deal and intensified his criticism of Santos’ government with an eye to the presidential elections, in which implementation of the accord will be decided.

  • 7:20 a.m.

The former leader of Colombia’s largest rebel group asked the pope for forgiveness for the pain he and his troops have caused during their long-running war against the state.

Rodrigo Londono wrote in a letter published on social media that he hoped Francis would understand that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia were always motivated by a sincere desire to stand up for the nation’s poorest and most-excluded citizens.

The man better known by his nom de guerre of Timochenko said he begged forgiveness for any “pain we’ve caused the Colombian society or any of its individuals.”

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