Pope Francis and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday lit a torch of peace symbolising the South American country's desire to achieve peace after more than 50 years of conflict ended last year. "This is not achieved simply with those of 'pure blood, ' but by all", the Pope told Santos and government officials September 7 outside the Casa de Narino, Colombia's presidential palace.
In a gesture likely to mark the deep symbolism of the trip, he was given a commemorative peace dove sculpted by an adolescent youth born in a jungle camp to a rebel father and a politician mother after she was taken captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in 2002.
Santos, who has promoted the peace accord in the face of stiff opposition, called the Pope's visit a "push" to take the first steps toward peace and reconciliation.
According to local authorities, an estimated two million people so far have welcomed Francis along the nine-mile pope-mobile route to the residence he's staying in while in Colombia.
In his only public remarks on his first day in Colombia, Francis begged young Colombians who gathered outside the Vatican embassy to serenade him: "Don't ever lose happiness and hope".
Speaking alongside President Juan Manuel Santos, the Pope called on Colombians to recognize that "real wealth is diversity" and to pursue a "culture of encounter", in which people are at the center of all political, social and economic activity.
He praised the pope for coming to this country at "this moment of utmost importance for the peace process". "There's no point in ending a war, if we still see one another as enemies".
Peace in the country remains fragile, as FARC's demise may lead other violent groups to take control of drug trafficking, and there are fears of revenge attacks on former rebels.
"We do not want any type of violence whatsoever to restrict or destroy one more life", he said.
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Pope Francis ended by telling the country, "you have a great and noble mission, which is also a hard task", then quoting Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "In spite of this, before oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life".
The plane flying Francis to Colombia left Rome on Wednesday morning and had to change its flight path to avoid Category 5 Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.
The pope then turned his attention to Venezuela where, he said, "may dialogue happen and may the country rediscover a good stability with the dialogue of all".
A half-hour into the flight, Francis told journalists he wanted to "help Colombia in its path of peace".
Francis will beatify two Colombian priests killed during decades of guerrilla warfare, declaring them martyrs who were killed out of hatred for the Catholic faith.
Pope Francis has not specifically endorsed the peace accord, but he saluted the process of bringing peace to Colombia. At least four people have been taken away in stretchers.
"The pope's visit will allow Colombians to move toward a true reconciliation".
In total, the conflict left more than 250,000 people dead, 60,000 missing and millions more displaced. Both used their visits to show solidarity with victims of violence, discrimination and poverty and to urge government authorities to fix the structural and societal problems that have made Colombia one of the most unequal countries in Latin America.