Pope Francis will visit Colombia Sept. 6-10, marking the fifth time that the Argentine-born leader of the Catholic Church will travel to the region. His trip is also seen as a shot in the arm for this Andean nation that’s shaking off its troubled past as it implements a historic peace deal with the hemisphere’s largest guerrilla group.
As President Juan Manuel Santos announced the visit Friday, he said Francis had given Colombia’s peace negotiators “courage and motivation” at several points during the difficult, years-long process.
“He’s a messenger of love and faith,” Santos said of Francis. “He’s the builder of bridges, not of walls.”
In April of last year, the Vatican had said Francis would travel to Colombia, but also suggested that he wanted to wait until after the country had formalized its peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas. A definitive deal was reached in November, and the guerrillas began demobilizing in January.
The visit will come at a time when many here are still wary of the peace deal and reluctant to accept the half-century-old guerrilla group back into society.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said the pope’s timing was fortuitous.
“I think he’ll be arriving at the best possible moment for Colombia,” he said in a statement. “He’s coming personally to share the message of peace and reconciliation. I think it will be an opportunity for Colombians to reflect on the need to overcome our polarization.”
Along with the capital of Bogotá, Francis is scheduled to visit Colombia’s second city, Medellín, the tourism hot spot of Cartagena, and the agricultural town of Villavicenico.
This will be the third time a pope has visited Colombia: Pope Paul VI visited in 1968, and Pope John Paul II visited in 1986, according to the presidency.
The visit also marks Francis’ fifth trip to the region since becoming pontiff in 2013. He visited Brazil in 2013, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay in 2015, and Cuba and the United States later that same year. He also visited Cuba and Mexico in 2016.