His Grace, Archbishop Omar Rojas, Metropolitan of South America for the ORCC LR has urgently requested prayers for the safety of himself and his clergy. The request came after another death threat to one of the clergy, Father Carmelo Villalba ministering in the north of Colombia, (Cucuta), on the border with Venezuela received a death threat from two gunmen on a motorcycle after Sunday Mass a week ago; he was told if he returned to the chapel he would be killed. Fr Villalba was instructed to report the incident to the Directorate of Judicial Police and Investigation (DIJIN) and offer Mass in the centre of Cucuta by the Metropolitan. Archbishop Rojas has himself received death threats, most recently near Bogotá, (Soacha), where His Grace as a consultant for the Ethics and Religion Department at an educational institution received a death threat and had to be provided with Police protection in order to leave the building.
Two months ago (8 May 2013) Archbishop Jairo Jaramillo Monsalve presided over the funeral of one of his priests, Father José Antonio Valle Bayona, killed violently at the age of 48. The parish priest of the Archdiocese of Barranquilla, Colombia, was found in a ditch with 17 stab wounds, mostly on his face and neck. He is the 19th priest to be killed in Colombia in five years. According to the Fides news agency, so far this year (2013), four Colombian priests have been murdered. A priest was murdered in 2012 . Six priests and a layman working for the Church were murdered in 2011; three priests and one religious were murdered in 2010; and five priests and another lay worker met a violent death in 2009. Negotiations for peace between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are still under way in Havana, but after six months of talking, little headway has been made.
His Eminence, Archbishop Boniface Grosvold, Primate of the ORCC LR has lent his support to the Metropolitan’s request and asks of the charity of all Christians to pray for the witness and ministry of the Church in Colombia – for all ministers of the Gospel irrespective of denomination.
The fourth largest country in South America and one of the continent’s most populous nations, it has significant natural resources and its diverse culture reflects the indigenous Indian, Spanish and African origins of its people. But with few avenues for social mobility, this has provided a natural constituency for left-wing insurgents. However, the lucrative returns from drugs and kidnapping came to dominate the rebels’ agenda, and largely replaced ideological motivations. The conflict has dragged on for decades, and at one point the government effectively lost control of large swathes of Colombian territory to the rebels, especially in the north and east. At the other end of the political spectrum from the left-wing rebels are illegal right-wing paramilitary groups, who are sometimes in the pay of drug cartels and landowners, and have at times been backed by elements in the army and the police. Many of these groups, which have have targeted human rights workers, peasants suspected of helping left-wing guerrillas, street children and other marginal groups, have demobilised under a government peace initiative, but there are doubts about how genuine the process is.
Ministering mainly in the slums and poor rural areas, Archbishop Rojas has personally requested Masses be offered for the safety of himself, his clergy and faithful and has consecrated the ORCC LR Archdiocese again to the Blessed Virgin Mary, seeking her aid, protection and intercession for peace in Colombia.