Pope Francis Starts Five Day Trip to Colombia

Pope Francis Starts Five Day Trip to Colombia

Pope Francis Starts Five Day Trip to Colombia

The Vatican past year sponsored dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition and bishops from the country are slated to meet with Francis in Colombia as pressure builds on Venezuela's embattled socialist leader to yield power. The FARC is demobilizing and recently formed a political party.

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.

Pope Francis was welcomed to Colombia on Wednesday in the hope of healing the wounds and divisions left by the region's longest-running armed conflict.

On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, his wife Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia Ettore Balestrero and Colombian Archbishop Ruben Salazar received the pontiff at Bogota's Catam military airport on Wednesday, reports Efe news.

As usual, the pope greeted each member of the press individually. The more hard the path that leads to peace and understanding, the more we must strive to recognize the other, to heal wounds and build bridges, to strengthen ties and help each other. Speaking to a local network on Thursday, he said that as he was waiting for his time to greet the pope to come, he wasn't sure how he'd do so, since he couldn't extend his hands to Francis.

But as the pope told the country's leaders, such natural beauty brings with it a responsibility to respect that biodiversity and preserve it for future generations.

During his address, the pope also said that citizens have to be valued according to their freedom, and protected by a stable order.

"The steps taken give rise to hope, in the conviction that seeking peace is an open-ended endeavor, a task which does not relent, which demands the commitment of everyone", Pope Francis said.

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"I encourage you to look at the excluded and marginalized in society, for the majority they don't count, they are left behind and marginalized", the pope said. Even the Catholic Church hierarchy, which was instrumental in facilitating the peace talks and is now spearheading the process of reconciliation, was divided over what many Colombians saw as overly generous terms offered to rebels behind atrocities.

Look at those who suffer in the eyes, the pope said, because "they, who cry out from their shackles, really understand the words of the one who died on the cross".

"There has been too much hatred and vengeance".

He began by thanking the media "for your company and for the work you will do on this trip", which he said, "is special because it is a visit to help Colombia to continue forward on the path of peace, and I ask you to pray for this during the journey".

Francis is the third pope to visit Colombia, following Pope Paul VI in 1968 and St. John Paul II in 1986. Along the way, the pontiff was stopped several times by children, some of them with Down syndrome, who handed him a small cross and other gifts.

The pope also greeted several children, as well as the ministerial cabinet, including Vice President Oscar Naranjo.

The Pope also emphasized the importance of family - "envisioned by God to be the fruit of spousal love" - as a source of social cohesion and "that place where we learn to live with others despite our difference and to belong to one another".

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