Latin America & Caribbean

Pope Francis announces visit to Colombia in September

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reads to Pope Francis, as they meet at the Vatican, Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption President Santos met Pope Francis in the Vatican in December, days after signing the Farc peace accord

Pope Francis has announced he will visit Colombia in September.

The Pope closely followed the four-year talks between the government and the Farc rebel group, which led to a peace agreement in November.

President Juan Manuel Santos said the Pope was travelling to Colombia to help "in the building of peace".

He will arrive in the capital, Bogota, on 6 September and will visit Medellin, Cartagena and Villavicencio before returning to Rome five days later.

A Vatican spokesman said that the fact that the Pope was visiting only one country in the region and the length of the trip showed the importance Pope Francis attributed to Colombia.

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'Bridges, not walls'

During a visit in 2015 to Cuba, where the peace negotiations were held, he urged the Colombian government and the Farc to persevere with the talks.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 90% of the Colombian population are Christians, most of them Catholics

He said the two sides could not allow "another failure on the path of peace and reconciliation".

"Pope Francis is a builder of bridges, not walls,'' said Mr Santos,

"The visit will help Colombians come together as a fairer, more compassionate, more equal country, one that is in peace," he added.

Mr Santos won last year's Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the conflict with the left-wing rebels.

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The agreement is now being implemented. But it still divides opinions in Colombia, where many think the rebels will not pay for the crimes committed during the 52-year-long conflict.

Some 7,000 Farc fighters are now gathered in transition zones across the country to be registered and to hand over their guns, before they return to civilian life in June.

This is the third visit by a pontiff to Colombia, a nation of 47 million people where an estimated 70% of the population are Roman Catholics.

Paul VI was the first Pope to visit Colombia, in 1968. Pope John Paul II travelled to the country during a Latin American tour in 1986.

Pope Francis, who is Argentinian, has already been on pastoral visits to six Latin American nations - Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay.

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