Francis to visit Colombia in September in peace deal push

Rome — Pope Francis will visit Colombia in September, giving a papal push for success to the implementation of the landmark peace deal agreed last year between the country's government and the rebel militants it had been fighting for decades.

The Holy See Press Office announced the trip from the Vatican late Friday, March 10. At a press conference shortly thereafter, the Colombian bishops' conference said the papal visit will carry the theme Vamos a dar un paso adelante ("Let's take a step forward.")

Francis will be in the country Sept. 6-11, visiting the cities of Bogotá, Villavicencio, Medellín and Cartagena.

The pope's visit comes after the Colombian Congress approved a new amnesty deal in December with the FARC guerilla group the country had been fighting since the 1960s.  The deal was the second offered by the government after a first deal narrowly failed to win popular approval during a referendum earlier last year.

Francis has said on several occasions that he wanted to visit Colombia, but that he wanted to make the trip once the peace deal was "bulletproof."

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The peace deal aims to turn FARC into a non-militant political group and offers freedom from prosecution for some junior members of the group. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize last year in recognition of his efforts to end the fighting, which had claimed some 220,000 and displaced millions.

Besides the newly announced trip to Colombia, Francis so far has only one other trip outside Italy announced for this year: a brief May 12-13 visit to Portugal. However, the pontiff has mentioned possible other trips to India and Bangladesh and to several African countries.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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