2002: A Bloody Year for the Church in Colombia

Clergy and Missionaries Seen as Counterweight to Guerrillas

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ROME, JAN. 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- 2002 was, perhaps, the most tragic year in the history of the Catholic Church in Colombia.



The massacre began on March 16 with the murder in cold blood of Archbishop Isaías Duarte Cancino of Cali. The year ended with the Nov. 11 kidnapping of Bishop Jorge Jiménez of Zipaquira, president of the Latin American bishops' council. He was later released.

Between these two events, seven priests, a nun and a seminarian were killed, according to the Vatican's missionary agency Fides. Of the 25 missionaries killed worldwide last year, 10 were in Colombia, Fides said.

In the majority of cases, including Archbishop Duarte's murder, the Ministry of Justice and the army attribute the violence to the guerrillas of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The Colombian attorney general's office revealed in mid-December that a special group composed of FARC guerrillas organized the killing of Cali's archbishop.

They killed the archbishop, the government said, because they were bitter about his condemnation of their kidnapping of a priest and because he described the peace process of the past government as an "absurdity" for "talking with a rebel group that continued its violent actions while dialoguing with the state."

Andrés Grillo, editor of the Semana review of religious affairs, said: "The priests, men religious and missionaries have become in many areas the only counterweight to the FARC."

"In regions where there is no state presence, literally abandoned to the hand of God," he said, "members of the Church in many cases are the only ones who, through their pastoral work, keep the community united, defend its rights, and protect it from the abuses of armed actors."

Since Archbishop Duarte's murder, at least a dozen bishops have been given bodyguards for their protection.

The national police, for their part, established "parish security fronts" in 20 departments, so that the faithful can contribute to the safety of the parish priests and vicars with information on movements of suspicious people or unusual events that they observe in the community.

Yet, the subsequent series of killings demonstrates that this is not the solution to the problem, Grillo said. Hence, he added, Church representatives are trying to develop their pastoral mission of reconciliation, as mediators between the guerrilla units and the government.