Pope Francis calls for peace, conciliation in Venezuela
BOGOTÀ- Immediately after landing at the Bogota international airport, Pope Francis’s visit to the South American country commenced with words of solidarity for the populations affected by hurricane Irma, and for the plight of the Venezuelan people. Throughout the trip, the pontiff used the stage as a platform to denounce the violence going on under Maduro's regime.
Despite not having programmed a visit to Venezuela, the Pontiff’s visit to Colombia was bound to force him to comment on the political situation of its host’s neighbour. In recent years, the two latin-American countries have shared a common history of violence and political instability.
According to some, Pope Wojtyla’s 1986 Colombian visit had been instrumental to the pacification of the conflict between governmental and paramilitary armed forces which, over the last 53 years, caused the death of over a quarter of a million people, the ‘disappearances’ of 60,000, and the mass migration of millions.
The current Pontiff now seems to face the same challenge with Venezuela. On the plane, the Head of the Catholic Church was questioned by journalists on the South American troubles, replying that conciliation must be sought at all costs to achieve the ultimate goals of ‘peace and solidarity, justice and concord.’
This was by no means the Pope’s first attempt at brokering a conciliation between the Venezuelan factions. For the past two years, an array of letters and telegrams have been sent to President Nicholas Maduro, the last being sent only a few days ago. All these efforts, including the dispatching of two official papal emissaries, have come to nothing as they were unable to ease the tensions between president Maduro’s government and the Venezuelan civil society.
The Pope’s visit to the South American state, which had already trodden down the road of political instability which plagues contemporary Venezuela, has been interpreted by many as a call for all Catholics to stand together in this moment of crisis. Even the slogan selected by the Pontiff for this trip, ‘‘Let’s make the first step’’, seems to underline the common path shared by Venezuela and Colombia, as well as an exhortation to Christians to get involved in the crisis. While Francis's efforts to end the conflict are indisputable, only time will show if his Colombian visit can be compared to Wojtyla's.