By David Kilby, Correspondent
Fathers Jorge Bedoya and Walter Quiceno may have set out on their separate pilgrimages to Colombia to witness Pope Francis’ simple, yet profound and personal message of forgiveness and healing, but they returned with insight into themselves, too.
“Many people in Colombia wanted to see the Pope. For them that was enough, just seeing him passing by. People needed that. My experience was a little different. I went to listen,” said Father Bedoya, parochial vicar in St. Joan of Arc, Marlton, explaining that his trip changed his vision of the priesthood and spirituality.
Father Bedoya and Father Quiceno, parochial vicar in St. Rose Parish, Belmar, were in Colombia during Pope Francis’ visit Sept. 6-11. The priests went to see the Pope offer encouragement to their native country as it recovers from the fresh wounds of a civil war.
Father Quiceno said his pilgrimage left him curious as to why he was so moved by the words of Pope Francis spoken in Colombia when he has seen the Pope two times before – in Rome and New York.
Father Quiceno theorized that it may have been a matter of the language the Pope was speaking, recalling an observation shared by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, with whom Father Quiceno had recently spoken. Cardinal Tobin pointed out the likelihood that while Father Quiceno spoke in different languages to the faithful, when he speaks to God he does so in his native Spanish.
Perhaps, Father Quiceno considered, the Holy Father’s words were all the more poignant because they were in Spanish, the language that the priest uses when he prays.
Following the Pope’s Lead
Father Bedoya, who is from Medellin, Colombia, concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis and approximately 2,000 other priests in his home city. Reflecting on the experience, he shared the momentousness of Pope Francis’ visit, especially considering the decades-long civil war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Juan Manuel Santo, president of Colombia and recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, negotiated a peace deal with FARC last November, but as Father Bedoya noted, Pope Francis did not visit the country to support any political group.
“He came as a spiritual leader, to speak about peace, forgiveness and the truth,” Father Bedoya said. “He came to learn from the experiences of the people of Colombia, to encourage them in their path to peace.
“He came to Colombia to help us make the first step,” Father Bedoya added, reiterating the theme of the Pope’s visit. “We as Christians are called to make the first step toward peace, harmony and unity. It requires us to make a big sacrifice. ... We also have to make the second step, to keep moving forward.”
The Pope taught that the first step is understanding, not judging, Father Bedoya said. “That really caught my attention."
Most of the general audience events with Pope Francis drew at least one million faithful. He also visited an orphanage and poor areas of the country, a signature of his visits wherever he goes.
Quoting Father Juan Jaime Escobar, a priest of Colombia and popular speaker, Father Bedoya said, “The Pope’s gestures are not meant to just be admired, but to be imitated.”
A Relatable Father
Father Bedoya also explained how Pope Francis strives to have sincere closeness to the people he visits, mentioning how the Pope addressed the Colombians as “Paisos” – a nickname for the people from inland Colombia.
“He’s very familiar. He knows our land, our customs and our traditions,” Father Bedoya said.
“He’s a simple man. He leads by example,” Father Bedoya continued. “My parents and I grew up in the midst of this conflict. We want a different future [for Colombia]. It’s time for healing. Pope Francis provides the example. The people of Colombia haven’t lost their hope and joy. I think they are ready to move forward. Pope Francis provided the encouragement.”
Father Quiceno, who grew up in schools in Risaralda-Caldas, Colombia, agreed.
“His words are really filled with the Holy Spirit,” Father Quiceno said. “They are so simple to understand but at the same time they are very profound.”
“Pope Francis brought us the healing we needed to forgive all the tragedies we have gone through for more than five decades,” he continued. “Thank you, Pope Francis, for bringing us Jesus’ love, compassion and forgiveness.”