Pontiff Urges End to Colombian Violence

Caritas Worker Slain Near Ecuador Border

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI says he is praying for an end to situations of violence, kidnapping and extortion in Colombia.



The Pope affirmed this in a June 30 message, addressed to the Colombian bishops' conference for the 100th anniversary of that institution. The message came less than a week after one of the victims of violence in the South American country was a Caritas aid worker.

The bishops are gathered in plenary assembly through Saturday.

In his message, the Holy Father highlighted how the episcopal conference, established in 1908, "has constantly supported the evangelizing mission of the Church in that beloved nation, seeking adequate ways and means to reinforce ecclesial life in those lands, and to encourage the baptized to respond generously to their vocation of sanctity."

Referring to the challenges facing the Church in Colombia, Benedict XVI gave the prelates assurances of his "prayers and spiritual closeness in the efforts you are making to ensure the Gospel rings out in all parts of Colombian territory, through initiatives in the fields of pastoral care in education and in universities, and in the concern you show for the imprisoned, the sick, the elderly, indigenous peoples, workers, the displaced, the young and families.

"In the certainty that you are laying solid foundations for a promising future, and for the good of the whole Church, I encourage your to redouble your attention toward priests, seminarians, missionaries and religious, and to give renewed impetus to the various formational programs for catechists, laypeople and pastoral care workers."

After highlighting the care with which the prelates seek to be "men of harmony," and their "continual exhortations for an end to the violence, kidnapping and extortion that affect so many sons and daughters of that beloved land," the Pontiff concluded his message by asking God "for an end to these situations that have caused so much suffering, and for a stable and just peace in Colombia, in a climate of hope and prosperity."

Tragic murder

The Caritas worker that was killed in Colombia on June 24 was Felipe Landazury. He worked for the diocesan Caritas in Tumaco, near the Ecuador border, helping people forced from their homes in one of the country's worst conflict zones.

Armed men attacked and captured Landazury. Two hours later, his body was found with three gun shots to the head.

The men also threatened the local community, accusing them of passing on information to the Colombian army and guerrillas about their activities in the area.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Lesley-Anne Knight said, "Caritas deplores the tragic murder of Felipe Landazury. We join with the bishops in Colombia in condemning this terrible act against somebody who was working on behalf of the poor and vulnerable.

"We urge the respect of human rights and the guaranteed protection of all civilians and aid workers. We urge the government in Colombia to investigate the murder and bring to justice the killers. The government must also ensure the local population is protected."

More than 3 million people in Colombia have been forced to flee their homes during decades of fighting between guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the army, Caritas reported.

The bishop of Tumaco and members of his diocese have repeatedly spoken out about human rights violations in their local community.