Historic plenary at WCC executive committee offers candid look at Colombian peace process

During a historic plenary on 8 June at the World Council of Churches (WCC) executive committee meeting in Bogota, Colombia, high-level speakers shared their candid insights from inside the Colombia peace process—not only what it looks like on an international level but from the perspective of local communities as well. 

WCC moderator Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm described the plenary as a highlight of the executive committee gathering. “To see both government and guerrillas in direct and peaceful exchange with each other strengthened my hope that there is a chance for peace,” he said. “It was remarkable how both government and guerrilla representatives have emphasized the important role that WCC and the local churches involved can play in the peace process.”

In addition to being historic from the perspective of the WCC governing body, the plenary was also a milestone from in the eyes of Colombians, pointed out Rev. Vilma Yanez, from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia and a member of the WCC central committee. 

“This is a historic moment for Colombia and it will be a historic moment for the WCC, so thank you very much for all this leadership and for your commitment to accompany and contribute to just peace in this beautiful country of ours,” she said. “We know that getting here is not easy; you have to sacrifice work, families—but it is the only way to get to know the complex situations of the country up close.”

Transformational process

She added that the presence of the World Council of Churches in Colombia allows the Presbyterian Church of Colombia to have closer contact with the government, embassies, and other churches to strengthen unity in the search for the desired peace. “The actions taken now will be like the flutter of a butterfly—the movement will reach unexpected ends, transforming war and conflict into peace,” she said. 

As a pastor, Yanez has also seen how the peace process will unfold on the ground, as she has worked as an educator for children and adolescents.

“As a pastor I have led and motivated the church to develop a program in two vulnerable sectors of the city—sectors characterized by poverty, lack of opportunities for health, education, decent work, situations that become breeding grounds for violence, gang activity, drug consumption, among others,” she said.

Louise Wilson, deputy head of the Mission of Ireland in Colombia, said it was an honor to play a role in the peace process. “We’ve been active here in terms of peace support for many years,” she said, adding that she would very much like to see the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. 

“We have fully expressed our support for the government’s peace process,” said Wilson. “We see dialogue as being the only solution and we are very happy so support that in whatever ways we can.”

Wilson said she recognized there are many challenges but also a strong willingness toward peace from so many parties. “We hope to reach a conclusion that benefits ultimately the communities living in these areas.”

The only paths to peace

Raúl Rosende, deputy representative of the UN Mission in Colombia, emphasized that dialogue and negotiation are the only paths to peace. 

“The coercive route is very costly in humanitarian and human terms,” he said. “It is not effective. It does not lead to the resolution of the conflict. It does not lead to the end of violence.”

Before, there was a principle in Colombian society that was “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” meaning peace begins to be implemented when the last agreement is reached with the armed group. 

“Not anymore,” said Rosende. “In the path of dialogue, of negotiations, in which we are working alongside the World Council of Churches, the idea is to reach preliminary, provisional agreements, and implement them. They are implemented. And this is fundamental especially at the level of the territories and at the level of the land—land for poor farmers.”

Rosende also reflected on the territorial presence that the churches have. “You are in places where no one is—certainly where the state is not,” he said. “So, when one tries to develop some initiatives, there are pastors, churches, priests… and this makes the peace initiative viable. And there is also the aspect of legitimacy. When churches are present in a specific initiative, people, communities tend to trust your role.”

The plenary session was based on the WCC’s role as permanent companions in the Round Table of Peace Dialogues between the Colombian government and the Central Major of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army.

The WCC executive committee is meeting in Bogota, Colombia, from 6-11 June, where the governing body is focusing not only on the business of the WCC but also on absorbing the life and witness of churches at the heart of the Pilgrimage of Justice, Reconciliation, and Unity.

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