Pope Francis begins visit to war-torn Colombia


A year ago, in a private ceremony, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) apologised to the people of Bojaya for the 2002 massacre.

"I am deeply touched by his holy presence in my homeland, whose people have the privilege of hearing his word of faith, hope, joy, love, reconciliation, and peace", Timochencko wrote in a letter to the Pope Thursday, after the pontiff's push for peace.

With no police line in sight, Francis was practically mobbed by well-wishers, though he seemed to revel in the outpouring of emotion from people showering him with flowers, red-yellow-and-blue Colombian flags and shouts of "Viva Francisco".

After two days in Bogota, the Argentine pontiff heads to the central city of Villavicencio on Friday, where he will meet war victims, including survivors of FARC violence and bombings.

During Mass, Francis urged Colombians to "overcome the understandable temptation to vengeance" and work to build a lasting peace. "This is not achieved simply with those of 'pure blood, ' but by all", the pope told Santos and government officials September 7 outside the Casa de Narino, Colombia's presidential palace. “You help us in this attempt to leave behind what offended us, to look forward without the scourge of hate, because you make us see the whole world that lies before us, all of Colombia that wants to grow and keep developing, ” Francis said.

Burke was speaking to Vatican Radio at the end of day three of Francis' 5-day visit to the nation and after a particularly emotional Prayer Meeting for Reconciliation in Villavicencio.

"Do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it", the Pope told them.

Pope Francis ended by telling the country, "you have a great and noble mission, which is also a hard task", then quoting Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "In spite of this, before oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life".

"Every effort at peace without honest commitment to reconciliation is destined to fail", he warned.

Earlier, Francis celebrated a Mass for hundreds of thousands of people on a muddy field to beatify Pedro Maria Ramirez, a priest who was killed in 1948 during a period of political violence known as "La Violencia", and Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo, killed in 1989 by the National Liberation Army (ELN) for suspected collaboration with the military. They clapped as Francis moved the two men a step closer to possible sainthood at the start of Mass on Friday.

Santos, who has promoted the peace accord in the face of stiff opposition, called the pope's visit a "push" to take the first steps toward peace and reconciliation.

But Uribe still opposes the deal and has intensified his criticism of Santos' government with an eye to next year's presidential elections, in which implementation of the accord is likely to be decided.