César Mauricio Velásquez, already Colombian ambassador to the Holy See, journalist and doctor in communication of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross of Rome, will be one of the speakers of the Conference entitled “Respect for life, the way to peace”, that will be held in Medellin on 23rd and 24th October 2014. Born in Medellin, the ambassador represented his country during Benedict’s pontificate. Today he is member of the National Conciliation Commission of the Church in Colombia and participated in the negotiations and the peace process with the armed groups of the country.
How was your experience with the negotiations?
The Conciliation Commission is mainly composed of people who work for the country: there are ministries, managers, representatives of the social forces and other people who fostered the peace process in the last 18 years during the negotiations with the war groups (FARC and ELN), paramilitary and self-defence forces. When I was in the Commission I learnt to know violence and to find solutions, arising from a Christian way of life.
What do you think about the situation of your country, during the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC in Cuba?
The answer to this question will be part of my presentation in the Conference of Medellin. Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus Benedict let us look at this process with realism and hope, but we mustn’t forget that a stable peace is not possible without justice and truth. We don’t need a cheaply peace, but a real one. It has to be based on truth and justice.
Did you talk about these themes with Pope Benedict XVI, during your mandate as ambassador to the Holy See?
Yes, I did. Pope Benedict XVI has always followed the situation in Colombia with interest, hope and sorrow. He knew about the problems of drugs, social differences, corruption and lack of interest of some of the politicians of our country, that caused our current tragedies. I remember that in June 2012 he received six people that had been kidnapped for 14 years in the forest. He asked me three times how long they had been held prisoners and then he said: “How could they stand 14 years of prison, if one day is unconceivable?”. Pope Benedict was very sorry for their suffering and he always prayed for the life and freedom of the prisoners.
What do you think about the choice of the Ratzinger Foundation to hold the International Conference in Colombia for this year?
It was a way to be close to Colombian people. When he was the Pope, Benedict XVI wanted to visit this country to be close to the victims of violence and support them. He always asked respect for life and freedom, as Pope Francis now does. I consider the Conference of the Ratinzger Foundation in Medellin as a message from Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus Benedict to all Colombian people who look for peace and justice, try to express their solidarity to the victims, love the truth and sincere fraternity.
What do you remember of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI?
Joseph Ratzinger was a reserved and peaceful Pope. He will be remembered as a great theologian and preacher who let people discover Christian faith. He didn’t like being at the centre of attention. During my commitment as ambassador, I never felt accustomed to be so close to the Pope. It was a grace for me: I was happy every time I saw him and I listened to him. I think we don’t have to be accustomed to wisdom. Benedict XVI was a reserved, but not an indifferent Pope. He was always gentle and friendly. Listening and speaking to him was a pleasure. He was like a faithful friend, hard to please but very kind.