(Sent to us by Call to Action)
From: The Tablet, the English Catholic weekly of March 28. It refers
to Cor Unum, the Vatican dept - a new head was appointed for Cor
Unum, I think, today (3/31).
Latin America - Jesuit accuses paramilitaries
Fr Javier Giraldo, founder and director of Colombia's
Intercongregational Peace and Justice Commission, has warned of the
threat to his country from paramilitaries linked to the Government.
These groups were first set up in the early 1980s, to counter the
Fr Giraldo was speaking to a group of non-governmental
organisations and journalists during a visit to Washington. The
Church in his country, he told them, had managed to escape
persecution as an institution, although paramilitary groups, doing the
military's dirty work, had "targeted sectors of the Church, or
individuals", particularly "those most committed to grassroots
organisation or particular communities". An example was Fr Jaime
Resterpo, who worked with peasants and supported co-operatives.
He was murdered in 1989.
One reason why the institutional Church had escaped lightly, Fr
Giraldo suggested, was that at least until the late 1980s the
Colombian bishops had a reputation for conservatism and for
supporting the interests of the military and the rich. But now "there
is a group of bishops - a more progressive group - who are closer to
the people" he said, and they were more sensitive to human rights
A survey carried out by the bishops in 1995 showed that 650,000
people had been displaced from the parishes that responded. By
projecting that proportion nationwide, Fr Giraldo suggested the real
figure would be closer to two million Colombians who had
"disappeared". Almost all were members of trade unions or social
organisations, he said.
One particular group, the former Patriotic Union Party, had had one
party member killed every 39 minutes in its first four years of
existence, he added.
Latin America - Rallying around the bishops of Colombia
A high-ranking Roman Catholic delegation left Colombia last Monday
after supporting the local bishops in their desire to launch a project
for national reconciliation. It is generally accepted that more than a
million people have been displaced by a civil conflict which has now
lasted over 30 years.
Coming from the Vatican, Europe and Canada, the visitors attended
an extraordinary meeting of the Colombian bishops' conference (12-
16 March). The delegation was promoted by Caritas. It was headed
by Bishop Cipriano Calderón Polo, vice-president of the Pontifical
Commission for Latin America, and Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes,
president of Cor Unum, the Vatican body which oversees both Caritas
International and the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission.
Archbishop Giraldo said they were seriously considering the
possibility of creating a reconciliation commission, "but it can only be
created if it will have a fair chance to mediate between two parties
willing to talk". According to recent polls, the Catholic Church is the
only organisation Colombians feel they can trust.
The delegation had meetings with the Colombian Government, but
the key moments of the visits were meetings with displaced
communities in Urabá, on the Atlantic coast. The delegation
celebrated Mass with the communities, who described how they had
been forced from their homes by an armed group calling itself a
"peasant civil defence unit" which murdered 21 people and tortured
and kidnapped others. The displaced communities gave the
delegation letters for the Pope: "Since the President does not listen to
us, give these letters to the Pope, because we have complete
confidence in the work of the Church; it is thanks to the Church that
we have survived so far."
The Colombian bishops' own analysis of the situation was echoed in
the delegation's farewell letter to them. "Because the civilian
population is regarded as the social base of the armed groups", the
letter said, "it is considered a military target, which makes it
impossible to secure its minimum rights." The delegation committed
itself to publicising the situation in Colombia and the Church's work,
which it described as "a sign of hope". "We place ourselves totally at
your service for whatever further help we can give you in the quest
for true peace and respect for human rights."
The delegation is the first stage in a programme of support for the
Colombian Church that the Caritas network of development agencies
plans to undertake during the coming year. This will include further
delegations and discussions with the Colombian Government. The aid
agency CAFOD, the member of Caritas for England and Wales, has
three of its regional organisers in Colombia at the moment to study
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