Pope Francis, in Colombia, travels to former war zone of Villavicencio | News | DW | 08.09.2017
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Pope Francis, in Colombia, travels to former war zone of Villavicencio

Rebels and their victims in Colombia stood together as Pope Frances led an open-air Mass. The pope called for reconciliation after decades of fighting between the government and left-wing Colombian rebels.

Some 600,000 people attended an open-air Mass in Villavicencio, a city 75 kilometers (47 miles) southeast of Bogota, Colombia's capital, as Pope Francis prayed with victims of Colombia's long conflict.

"Every peace effort without real commitment to reconciliation will fail," Francis said. "Reconciliation means opening a door to all people who lived through the drama of conflict."

The Mass included Francis beatifying two martyred Colombian priests: Bishop Jesus Emilio Jaramillo and priest Pedro Maria Ramirez. Both were killed in the fighting between the Colombian government and the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).

Kolumbien Papstbesuch (picture-alliance/AP Images/R. Mazalan)

Pope Francis stressed reconciliation in an open-air Mass in Villavicencio

Read more: Pope Francis in Colombia prays for peace and stability

Francis had agreed to visit Colombia after the government had signed a peace deal with the FARC last year. He had previously expressed support for Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his efforts to bring an end a civil war that had lasted more than half a century.

Victims and rebels together

Part of the pope's daylong visit in Villavicencio was what the Vatican called a "great prayer meeting for national reconciliation." It entailed bringing victims and rebel fighters together in front of a mutilated statue of Christ, which was rescued after a rebel mortar attack.

"We made a lot of victims, so for us to get where we are, being able to walk without fear, as a civilian (it is necessary to confront your victims)," Juan Enrique Montiel, a former parliamentary member, told The Associated Press.

Read more: FARC deals leave Colombians out to dry 

At least 220,000 people died in the armed conflict between 1958 and 2012, according to Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory.

Former FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, better known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, sent a letter ahead of Friday's Mass asking for forgiveness from Pope Francis.

"Your frequent reminders about the infinite mercy of God move me to beg for your forgiveness for any tear or pain we've caused Colombian society or any of its individuals," Londono wrote.

A "devout admirer" of the first Latin American pope, Londono was unable to attend the Mass as he is receiving medical treatment in Cuba following a stroke.

Read more: Colombia struggles with the demons of peace

​​​​​​​dv/sms (AP, dpa)