Pope’s Colombia agenda: peace, ecology and the way forward

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ efforts to consolidate Colombia’s peace process with a five-day visit produced a result even before the trip began: a cease-fire between the government and the country’s last major rebel group.

Francis is sure to hail the cease-fire with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, when he arrives in Bogota on Wednesday, seeing it as another major step forward in Colombia’s path of reconciliation after five decades of bloody conflict.

Even before the deal, Francis had a full plate in seeking to help heal the wounds of Latin America’s longest-running conflict while advancing his own pastoral agenda. On tap for his 20th foreign trip are expected messages promoting care for the environment, denouncing the drug trade and urging Colombia’s political class to address the economic and social disparities that were at the root of the fighting.

“We certainly can’t expect magic solutions from the pope,” said Guzman Carriquiry, a top Vatican adviser on Latin America. “But the true causes of the violence must be confronted if they want a true pacification in Colombia.”

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While his focus will be on Colombia, Francis will also be pressed to address the political and humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela, where the Vatican tried but failed to facilitate talks between the opposition and what local Catholic leaders have declared the “dictatorship” of President Nicolas Maduro.

Here’s a look at what to expect during Francis’ trip, the third to Colombia by a pope.

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HEALING WOUNDS

In the final drive of peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Francis laid out a public challenge to negotiators who were meeting Cuba: “Please, we do not have the right to allow ourselves yet another failure on this path of peace and reconciliation,” Francis begged them in 2015 from Havana’s Revolution Square.

He followed up with a promise: Once an accord was signed and sealed, he would visit the overwhelmingly Catholic country to help solidify it.

Francis is making good on that with this trip, hoping to promote reconciliation between victims of the conflict and those who victimized them. That could be a tall order, given the divisions that doomed a 2016 popular referendum on the initial peace accord and remain today after a revised agreement was approved by Congress last…

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