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Pope Francis departs for Colombia with hopes to boost peace process after 50 years of war

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Updated: 11:50 GMT, Sep 6, 2017 | Published: 11:48 GMT, Sep 6, 2017 |
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Pope Francis left for Colombia on Wednesday (September 6) for a visit set to encourage a fledgling peace process that ended half a century of war between a succession of governments and the guerrilla group FARC but has left the country deeply divided.

Francis, making his 20th foreign trip as pontiff and his fifth to his native Latin America, will spend five days in the country, visiting the capital Bogota and the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.

The Argentine pope had delayed accepting a government and Church invitation to visitColombia, where about 80 percent of the population is Catholic, until a viable peace process was under way.

Leftist FARC, by far Colombia’s biggest rebel group, introduced its new political party last week, a major step in its transition into a civilian organisation after more than 50 years of war that killed 220,000 people.

Under its 2016 peace deal with the government, most FARC fighters were granted amnesty and allowed to participate in politics. Whether the rebels will secure support from Colombians, many of who revile them, remains to be seen.

The peace accord, which was brokered by Cuba and Norway, was initially rejected by a less than 1 percent margin in a referendum before being modified and enacted.

Like the rest of the country, Colombia’s Roman Catholic bishops were divided on their support of the deal; with some saying it was too lenient to the guerrillas. The pope is expected to urge them to put aside their differences during his trip and help the country move forward.

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