BOGOTA – Pope Francis celebrated on Thursday his first Mass in Colombia before more than 1 million people who congregated in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar park, warning in his homily “of the dense shadows” threatening the country such as corruption, social inequality and the thirst for vengeance.
In the homily he delivered at the first of the four Masses he will celebrate in Colombia, the pontiff started out by praising Colombia for its natural and human gifts, a land that “could give its fruits to all.”
However, he said, “there are dense shadows that threaten and destroy life ... injustice ... social inequality ... personal or group interests that consume ... what is destined for the wellbeing of all.”
To these dangers, he added “lack of respect for human life ... thirst for vengeance and the hate that stains with human blood the hands of those who are unfeeling about the pain of so many victims.”
Despite these dark shadows, Francis asked his listeners to “trust in the Lord” and praised “those who have taken initiatives of peace, of life,” including those “who are working in defense of and care for human life, particularly when it is most fragile and vulnerable.”
Earlier in the day, the pontiff had reminded Colombia’s bishops of their mission to promote reconciliation in the Andean nation, which has entered a post-conflict phase after leftist rebels signed a peace agreement with the government last year and later turned in their weapons.
In a gathering at the archbishop’s palace in Bogota during the second day of his stay in Colombia, Francis delivered a long and hard-hitting speech to Colombia’s Catholic hierarchy, telling them they are “not technicians or politicians, but pastors.”
Colombia’s bishops have been criticized by some for being too aloof with respect to the peace process and the peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has transformed itself into a political party that uses the same acronym.
Francis urged the bishops to pay special attention to marginalized people and show particular sensitivity to the needs of the Afro-Colombian population.
He later stepped out onto the balcony of the archbishop’s palace to address a crowd of more than 20,000 mostly young people who had gathered in Bogota’s Bolivar Square.
The pope, who has arrived in Colombia at a time when the population is bitterly divided over the peace agreement with the FARC, which many criticize as too lenient, urged the young people to teach their elders about coming face-to-face with the other.
“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.
The pope was received with full honors Thursday by President Juan Manuel Santos during a ceremony at the Casa de Nariño palace, where the pontiff said Colombian society must “avoid all temptation to get revenge and the pursuit of special and short-term interests.”
He will celebrate a public Mass in Simon Bolivar Park later in the day.
Francis also is scheduled to visit the cities of Medellin, Cartagena and Villavicencio during his six-day visit.