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For Colombian president, churches can play key role in peace process

For Colombian president, churches can play key role in peace process

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos. Photo: Marcelo Schneider/WCC

01 March 2018

"Churches can play a fundamental role in building peace in Colombia," said Colombia president Juan Manuel Santos, on 28 February, during his keynote speech at a public forum promoted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), in Cartagena, Colombia.

"Building peace requires changing prejudices, requires learning to forgive, requires changing attitudes towards many things in life, especially in a conflict that has lasted three generations", he continued. "We are making a great effort, with many difficulties. Peace has enemies and the help of the church at this time is essential”.

Held at the Centro de Convenciones Cartagena de las Indias, the forum entitled "The Peace Process in Colombia, and the role of churches and faith communities" brought together a wide range of speakers from both the Santos administration and the constituency of the WCC. The event included a short act of signing by Santos of the public policy decree for religious freedom and worship in Colombia.

Welcoming Santos and the participants, Rev. Frank Chikane, a leading figure in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, in government service under presidents Mandela and Mbeki, and moderator of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), expressed appreciation for Santos’s engagement and leadership in the pursuit of peace in this country, recognized in the award of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.

JM Santos Colombia
Rev. Frank Chikane, el Presidente Juan Manuel Santos y la Prof. Dra. Isabel Apawo Phiri. Foto: Marcelo Schneider/CMI

Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary, reminded that, in 2015, in a meeting with Santos, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressed the WCC’s commitment to contributing to the peacebuilding in Colombia, drawing on the expertise and experience of the WCC member churches around the world.

“We share many convictions with the WCC about the core values that are necessary to pave the path for societies based on respect, mutual understanding and tolerance”, said Dr Rodrigo Rivera Salazar, Colombia’s high commissioner for peace.

“The Colombian government has succeeded to sign a bilateral peace agreement with the FARC and it is still trying to find the best way to continue the peace talks with ELN”, he added. “Such processes generate the silence of the weapons and create the conditions for the wider implementation of the peace accord.

“But the government can’t impose by decree reconciliation among all Colombians”, pondered Salazar. “Reconciliation can’t be ordered by the government. It’s a personal decision to be taken by each Colombian”.

The programme included short words of greetings from Dr Emily Welty, a representative of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureate International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

“Just as people worldwide have supported Colombia’s struggle against the indiscriminate harm of landmines, people in nuclear weapons-affected states need our collective support now”, she said.

“It would be of great benefit for Colombia and its people to share with communities affected by nuclear weapons use and testing its experience with assisting victims of landmines, organizing the remediation of mined land and developing landmine risk education programs”, stated Welty to Santos, the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The forum, which was facilitated by journalist Claudia Palacios, was closed by CCIA director Peter Prove, who echoed some of Santos’s remarks about the necessity to promote equity of access to important social goods to all, particularly education and health, as part of the efforts to build peace.

“As important as it is to secure signatures on a negotiated agreement for peace, it is unsustainable without an address to the inequalities of opportunity that have provoked and sustained conflict”, he said.

Read the full speech of President Juan Manuel Santos

Learn more about CCIA