The Latest: Crowds gather beneath rain for papal Mass

AP News
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Posted: Sep 07, 2017 3:41 PM
The Latest: Crowds gather beneath rain for papal Mass

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis' visit to Colombia (all times local):

2:30 p.m.

Tens of thousands of people are streaming into Bogota's main park under a pouring rain for an outdoor Mass celebrated by Pope Francis that's dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

Many in the crowd arrived at Simon Bolivar Park at dawn Thursday and waited through the rain for the afternoon service, Francis' final major event of the day.

Carmen Contreras, a 72-year-old, traveled 18 hours with her family on a bus from Florencia for the Mass. She says: "Seeing the pope is a joy. Now I can die in peace."

Some in the crowd were Venezuelan refugees who have fled the food and medicine shortages, violent protests and soaring inflation across the border. They are hoping Francis offers them consolation about the deteriorating situation at home.

Refugee Dorian Gonzalez, who has been in Colombia for five months, says he hopes Francis gives some of his "goodness" to President Nicolas Maduro "because we are suffering."

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12:25 p.m.

Pope Francis is telling Colombia's bishops that they have a unique role to play in helping Colombians heal from a half-century of rebellion, saying they must show a "distinct kind of moral courage" to help Colombians overcome their base instincts of war and fear.

Francis also urged the church hierarchy to work for unity and communion in-house — a reference to the divisions even within the Catholic Church over the terms of the peace accord. Many conservative opponents of the deal — including clergy — oppose the generous terms offered to the guerrillas.

In a speech Thursday at the residence of Bogota's archbishop, Francis urged Colombia's 130 bishops to give their flock the courage "in taking the first step towards definitive peace and reconciliation, towards abdicating the method of violence and overcoming the inequalities at the root of so much suffering."

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11:20 a.m.

Pope Francis is urging young Colombians to take the lead in promoting forgiveness to help their country heal from a half-century of armed rebellion, saying youngsters more than adults are able to "leave behind what has hurt us and look to the future without the burden of hatred."

Thousands of Colombians waving handkerchiefs in the red, yellow and blue of Colombia's flag greeted Francis in Plaza Bolivar, the main square facing Bogota's cathedral. They interrupted him frequently with cheers, including when he repeated his famous line about how "only the young can make a mess!"

Francis praised young people for being able to move on from old resentments that "sicken the soul." He said Colombia's young must face the challenge of "passing onto us the youthful hope which is always ready to give others a second chance."

Francis is stressing a message of reconciliation during his five-day visit to Colombia in hopes of solidifying the country's year-old peace accord that is still bitterly contested by many Colombians who oppose the generous terms offered the rebels to lay down their arms.

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10:55 a.m.

Pope Francis is leading Colombians in prayers at the main cathedral in Bogota, with thousands of people jammed in the plaza outside waiting for him to emerge.

The crowd is so tightly packed that some people are fainting. At least four people have been taken away in stretchers.

Crowd control has been a challenge so far in Francis' visit, with exuberant Colombians trying to get close to history's first Latin American pope, who is seeking to encourage the nation's peace process. During Francis' first event of the day Thursday, a man broke through security and threw himself at Francis' feet on the red carpet as the pope arrived at the presidential palace.

Children on the stage then abandoned their positions to throw their arms around Francis in a series of unscripted embraces.

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9:40 a.m.

Pope Francis is urging Colombians come together to heal the divisions spawned by five decades of armed conflict and enact "just laws" to address the entrenched inequality that sparked the rebellion.

Francis made the remarks Thursday in an address to President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia's political, cultural and economic elite at the presidential palace at the start of his first full day in Colombia. His five-day visit is aimed at helping solidify last year's peace accord between the government and leftist rebels that has bitterly divided the nation.

In his remarks, Francis urged all Colombians "to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and support one another." He also called for legislation to correct what he said were the structural causes of poverty that sparked the conflict.

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He said: "Let us not forget that inequality is the root of social ills."

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9:30 a.m.

President Juan Manuel Santos is embracing Francis' motto for his trip, calling on Colombians to "Take the First Step" and let go of much resentment stirred by decades of armed conflict.

In a speech Thursday to Francis from the presidential palace in Bogota, Santos said Colombia is an example to a world engulfed by conflict and war, a place where weapons are being traded for words and literally converted into monuments to peace.

Still, he acknowledged that much work remains to be done to overcome the bitter divisions created by a peace deal last year that conservative opponents see as too generous with leftist guerrillas behind scores of atrocities during the country's half-century conflict.

Santos said that "Thousands of lives have been saved, thousands of victims have been spared, but we still need to take that first, renewing step that is the most important of all: the step toward reconciliation."

He added that "silencing the guns is worthless if we remain armed in our hearts. Ending the war is worthless if we still see each other as enemies."

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8:40 a.m.

Pope Francis is waving to crowds from his car as he starts his first full day in Colombia, where he's stressing a message of reconciliation for a country emerging from five decades of armed conflict.

Hundreds of people are lining the motorcade route bringing him from the Vatican embassy to the presidential palace, where he'll meet with President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombian political and economic elite.

Hundreds of people also await him at the Casa Narino, some carrying crosses and portraits of the Argentine pope. In the crowd are soldiers with amputated limbs, disabled school children and dignitaries.

Francis has a packed day, delivering a speech to Santos as well as an address the crowd. Later he'll meet with bishops and cardinals from around the region. He'll end the day with a huge outdoor Mass in Bogota's Simon Bolivar Park.