Members of the Colombian presidential guard stand next to a commemorative stamp with an image of Pope Francis In Bogota Aug. 28. Pope Francis will visit Colombia Sept. 6-10. (CNS photo/Jaime Saldarriaga, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis will help Colombians celebrate the official end of the country’s 52-year civil war by urging the country to cultivate true peace, said Archbishop Jose Octavio Ruiz Arenas, a Colombian who serves as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

Archbishop Ruiz, who had been archbishop of Villavicencio, will accompany Pope Francis on his visit to Colombia Sept. 6-10, including to Villavicencio, where the focus will be on reconciliation with God, among Colombians and with the environment.

Pope Francis will celebrate a prayer service for national reconciliation in the city Sept. 8; about 6,000 people have been invited, including victims of the civil war, surviving family members and former members of guerrilla groups and militias, said Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office.


“Right now in Colombia, the church is encouraging that yearning for peace that is everywhere,” Archbishop Ruiz told reporters at the Vatican Sept. 1. “But I must distinguish between that desire for peace that all Colombians have and the signing of this treaty” for peace between the government and the largest rebel group, known as FARC. “They are two different things.”

The treaty is a “political” response to the situation, and a slight majority of the population rejected it in a referendum in October 2016. However, the Colombian congress ratified the treaty a month later. “This has created a very serious problem because the opposition said this treaty is not legitimate, and the president betrayed” the will of the majority of people, Archbishop Ruiz said.

The archbishop said he does not believe Pope Francis will speak about specific aspects of the peace accord, but rather will talk about the Christian values that must be the foundation of a true and lasting peace.

“I think the pope will help us understand that peace is such a great gift that we must forget that political fact and continue seeking a real peace,” the archbishop said. “It is not enough to sign a treaty with one group unless we struggle to remove the causes of the violence, which were injustice, the unequal distribution of goods, corruption, the problem of drug trafficking, etc. If we do not attack the causes, the violence will continue. Perhaps not with FARC, but with other groups that still feel they are victims of the state or of the situation of the nation.”

“The church is working hard” to encourage an effort to address the underlying causes of social exclusion, injustice and suffering, Archbishop Ruiz said. “Then it remains to be seen whether they listen or not to what the pope will say, otherwise it will be very difficult.”