AMERICA/COLOMBIA - “The experience of being taken hostage helped me discover the value of solidarity, prayer and communion... the Church will continue to work for peace and reconciliation in the country: Bishop Vacca Ramirez of Yopal tells Fides about his adventure as a hostage in the hands of guerrillas.

Thursday, 16 September 2004

Rome (Fides Service) - A Colombian Bishop recently taken hostage by guerrillas in his country and who happily survived to tell the story, told Fides about his experience. Bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez of Yopal is one of the Bishops in Rome for a study seminar organised by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples for newly appointed Bishops in mission territories. He was kidnapped by militants of the ELN, national liberation army.
"On 24 July I was making a pastoral visit with two of my priests to a parish in Nunchia, Morcote”, the Bishop told Fides. “We were accompanied by the mayor, two school teachers and some local community leaders. At 2 in the afternoon when we were about to leave the parish, four guerrillas, two men and two women appeared and they ordered the mayor not to let anyone out until 4. The guerrillas kept on refusing to let anyone leave hour after hour until the next morning at 7am when they said they would come with a message. At 7 the next morning two guerrillas came and instead of a message they said they had orders to leave with the bishop who would then be given a message for the government. We walked all day on Sunday 25 July along stony paths in the mountains until about 11 in the evening. The people of the parish wanted to come and look for me but the guerrillas said they would kill anyone who left the parish.
Thank God the next day they told me I was to be released but there was no message for me to carry. On Tuesday 27 July very early in the morning they let me go and I began the walk back to Morcote, where I arrived at about 9.30”.
Bishop Vacca does not know why he was kidnapped. “Perhaps we will never know what the kidnappers wanted. I think the story of the message was a hoax”. During this experience - the Bishop said - “I was fully aware that my life was hanging on a thread: at any moment they could have killed me, as they have done with other bishops, priests and religious... the only source of hope at times like this is total confidence in God. I put myself in his hands and said, thy will be done”.
“This experience helped me discover the value of solidarity, prayer, communion and affection of the whole Church, first of all the Pope who was concerned for me and sent a message, and then many cardinals and bishops who expressed their closeness and sympathy. I also discovered sincere affection of the people who suffered when I was kidnapped and celebrated my release”.
“Kidnapping is one of the greatest social scourges in Colombia - the Bishop told Fides. The Church is a special target because of her efforts to promote reconciliation and peace and because she is seen to be the most credible reality in our society and this means that any action against the Church is felt by the whole community". But Bishop Vacca says that this does not prevent the Church from continuing her activity in this field: "The Church has always acted as mediator for peace and she will continue. We will continue to work to promote dialogue between government and guerrillas and for the release of all hostages”. (RG) (Agenzia Fides 16/9/2004 - Righe 38; Parole 579)