Pope Francis will preside over a reconciliation ceremony between Colombian victims and former guerrillas during a September visit aimed at consolidating the peace process to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.
Francis will also pay homage to the patron saint of slaves, the 16th century Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver, when he travels to the former slave-trading hub of Cartagena.
The Vatican on Friday released details of Francis’ September 6-11 trip, his fifth to Latin America and the first papal visit to Colombia since St. John Paul II’s pilgrimage in 1986.
Highlights include a Mass in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar park that is expected to draw up to a million people. A day later, the pope is scheduled to preside over a prayer for national reconciliation in Villavicencio, a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Earlier this week, FARC members began the final handover of individual weapons as part of the nation’s historic peace accord, which was inked last year after an initial one was rejected by Colombians in a referendum.
Francis had said he would only come to Colombia once a peace agreement was sealed. He gave a strong push to Colombian negotiators when he visited Cuba in 2015, telling them they didn’t have the right to abandon peace efforts.
In addition to the main peace and reconciliation thrust of the trip, Francis is likely to use his time in Colombia to press issues close to his heart. Officials say he is likely to touch on drug trafficking and Colombia’s cocaine trade, the environment given Colombia’s location in the Amazon rainforest, as well as poverty and social inequality.