Buenaventura, Colombia, Feb 9, 2022 / 17:14 pm (CNA).
Since 2017 Bishop Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya has led the Diocese of Buenaventura, centered on one of Colombia’s main seaports. His work announcing the Gospel and denouncing violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime has drawn more than one death threat.
The threats have recently re-emerged, prompting the Colombian bishops’ conference to post a video Feb. 7 expressing the bishops’ great concern for the personal safety of Bishop Jaramillo.
“He, as a good shepherd and carrying in his heart the suffering of his people, has denounced what is happening there: how the armed actors are acting viciously in this region against that population,” stated Father Darío Echeverri, secretary general of the National Conciliation Commission of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.
“And since he has had the courage, the prophetic bravery to denounce what is happening there, now he is the victim. They have forbidden him to go to areas of his diocese. They’ve banned him from certain places,” explained the priest.
Bishop Jaramillo told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister agency, “Now more than ever people are needed who can help find a hopeful horizon for this difficult situation that the entire population of Buenaventura is experiencing.”
“We are going through a wave of terrible violence in the rural area where they are acting viciously: in the Naya area, in San Juan and Bajo Calima, in Cisneros, which is the natural entrance for vehicles. In all access points there is the presence of heavily armed men frightening the population and harming people’s lives,” the bishop said.
The prelate said that these armed men “want to surround Buenaventura and we must continue to raise our voices so that the Colombian state and the international community know that not only the police and the army are needed, but other broader measures and that’s the task we are working hard at along with the whole community.”
At the end of January, the People’s Ombudsman’s Office requested action in the face of the displacement of at least 700 people fleeing “intimidation and threats” from the Clan del Golfo, a drug-trafficking paramilitary group.
Buenaventura and the surrounding territories are exposed to the violence of criminal gangs and armed groups that are disputing this strategic area to move out illegal substances and contraband.
In his video, Fr. Echeverri said that “the armed actors must stop acting viciously against this poor population: Afro-Colombians indigenous people and settlers from all over the country. May there be peace in Buenaventura, may this sad war cease!”
The Bishop of Buenaventura explained to ACI Prensa that in December 2021 he had to travel to the Bajo Calima area to administer Confirmation at a place he used to visit two or three times a year.
“The priest made an urgent phone call to me and told me not to go because there were some men who were asking for me, men from some of those groups in that area connected to drug trafficking, insistently asking when I was coming, which was very dangerous,” he said.
So “I couldn’t go down there, I couldn’t go to that area and we had to bring the children to be confirmed here to the urban area to be able to celebrate those sacraments.”
Already before December, the prelate continued, “a campesino and catechist from the small remote towns informed me that some armed men in rural areas insistently asked when I was going to that area.”
Bishop Jaramillo said that several communities have told him “‘don’t come because they are shooting or your life is in danger’. It’s not easy, not only for the bishop but for the entire community.”
“Being alive today is a miracle itself because at any moment an attack against the life of people in general or against the bishop can happen,” he said.
Bishop Jaramillo said that he is not afraid.
“Not at all. I’m not afraid because he who is with God remains strong. I am not interested in my own life, but in the life of the entire community. I’m not afraid, I continue to walk the streets, going from one place to another,” the prelate stressed.
“I’m certainly not going to hole up somewhere or flee. I am at the head of a community that needs someone to speak, someone to raise his voice, and here we will continue with God’s protection and what the Colombian state provides us,” said the bishop, who has had four security guards for some time now.
The Bishop of Buenaventura also told ACI Prensa that he doesn’t know who “is getting upset over the denunciations, the words simply showing what’s happening in the territory.”
The prelate said that this “is upsetting some powerful people who want to keep this quiet. They don’t let anyone report what’s going on and they’re not interested in people talking or in anyone showing what’s happening in Buenaventura.”
“Those of us who dare to do it, well, we run this kind of risk.”
“We pray to ask God to move the hearts of the violent so they don’t attack their brothers,” he concluded.
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