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Colombia Mennonites worship and witness for justice and peace

Rebecca Bartel and Cathryn Clinton
March 27, 2009

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – This April, Colombia's Mennonite churches are once again calling on congregations in Canada and the United States to join together in a unified cry for justice, peace and healing in the war-torn South American country.

Thousands of people are dying and millions are left homeless as government forces, paramilitary groups and guerrillas vie for power and territory in Colombia. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, Colombia faces the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the hemisphere.

Colombian Mennonite churches ask churches in Canada and the United States to come together on April 19 and join them in worship, reflection and prayer for victims, perpetrators and peacemakers.

Churches are called to make a public witness on April 20 by sharing stories, speaking with government officials, holding public vigils and doing other advocacy activities.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is providing an online packet of worship resources and advocacy material – including prayers, a bulletin insert and a sample letter to lawmakers – at mcc.org/us/washington/days. Additional articles and material about Colombia can be found at mcc.org/colombia.

Colombia is home to 4 million internally displaced persons, the highest number in the western hemisphere. The highest rate of displacement since 1985 occurred in the last four months of 2008, despite negotiations between the government and the paramilitary groups. More than 270,000 people were forced from their homes because of the violence, meaning an average of 1,500 people fled daily.

The country has a high number of killings – some 2,500 to 3,000 a year; four decades of armed conflict; and grave violations of humanitarian law. Approximately 97 percent of the crimes go unpunished. There is an inequitable distribution of wealth with two-thirds of the population living in poverty, while a small portion has an exorbitant amount of wealth.  These economic injustices exacerbate the conflict.

Human rights workers are concerned that as paramilitary groups demobilize, they are forming other armed groups. Peace and justice workers, including Mennonites, are asking for a well-monitored process of reconciliation.

The latest human rights report, "A Prophetic Call," compiled by MCC partner organizations Justapaz and the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace, has just been released. It is on the web at justapaz.org/spip.php?article111. It documents more than 300 violations against church leaders in 2007. Church members are also among the 4 million people who have been forced to flee. Churches urge a collective call for a just peace and an end to violence and inequity.

For more information, go to mcc.org/colombia, or contact Theo Sitther, MCC U.S. Washington Office, 202-544-6564, tsitther@mcc.org.