Crux: Peace deal puts Colombia at heart of Year of Mercy

The following article, written by Austen Ivereigh and published on Crux on September 24, 2016, provides a glimpse at the efforts of Fr. Francisco de Roux, SJ, and other members of the church to shape the peace negotiations between the government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas. Fr. de Roux, pictured at right above with Jasmin Nario-Galace (left) and Eli McCarthy (center), was one of the participants at the April 2016 Nonviolence and Just Peace conference. Photo by Gerry Lee, Maryknoll.

“The last and oldest armed conflict in the hemisphere is over,” announced Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, last week, as he handed over to the United Nations the peace agreement reached in Havana at the end of August between Colombia’s government and its largest guerrilla army, the FARC.

On Monday, after a liturgy at midday in Cartagena’s St. Peter Claver church presided over by the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, that agreement will be signed in a ceremony attended by around 2,500. Among them will be 15 heads of state from across Latin America, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, King Juan Carlos of Spain and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Santos has asked them all to wear white, the color of peace.

The deal will be signed by delegates of the FARC and the government, with Raúl Castro of Cuba, who hosted the four-year process, looking on.

Yet in many ways the key people at the ceremony – the ones who should really be given the credit for ending a 52-year war that has affected the lives of millions of Colombians – will not be the heads of state, but representatives of the victims of the protracted conflict.

It was their presence in Havana that transformed the dynamic of the talks. And the fact that they were there at all was the result of the Church – including a 70-year-old Jesuit called Father Francisco de Roux.

Even before I arrived in Colombia earlier this month, I knew that ‘Pacho’ de Roux was a key figure in the peace process, but pinning him down was not easy.

By the time we finally met over lunch last Friday, I had already seen the Church’s role first hand. At one workshop at the bishops’ conference headquarters, for example, I watched priests in the southern conflict zones get briefed on walking with the thousands of demobilized guerrillas who later this year will begin arriving in their parishes.

The workshop was given by Father Dario Echeverri of the Church’s National Reconciliation Commission, who described to me how, with de Roux, he had persuaded both sides in the talks to admit victims to the negotiating table.

From August 2014, said Echeverri, the churchmen began taking groups of victims to Havana (there were five visits, each time with a dozen victims) to testify directly to those who had done them harm.

Importantly, they were chosen as victims of the “armed conflict” in general – the armed forces, and the paramilitaries, not just the FARC – which prevented any one party being singled out. The Church’s Reconciliation Commission has compiled the victims’ testimonies in a book, El Corazón de las Víctimas (‘The Heart of the Victims’), which make for sober reading.

“The presence of the victims focussed the attention elsewhere – on the human being,” de Roux explained to me over rice and fish at the Jesuit curia in downtown Bogotá.

“Until then the discussion had been on very real issues: corruption, impunity, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and the fact that political parties have become vote-buying machines. But the victims said no: these are serious issues, but the main problem is us: Colombians. We have to solve that first.” …

Read the entire article on the Crux website.

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