Colombia Accompaniment Program: World Council of Churches Pilgrimage for Peace Comes to Apartadó to Honor Asesinados

By the grace of God, we were able to join the Pilgrimage of World Council of Churches (WCC) delegates to honor the work of two human rights workers (Mario Castaño and Hernán Bedoya) who were killed in December 2017. We met the families of these men and were able to join them in their grief. Both the PCUSA and PPF condemned these killings so we were standing to witness these statements of condemnation. The purpose of this pilgrimage is to give voice to the people most affected by the struggle for human rights and land rights. To recognize those who have been assassinated and those women have stood up for and achieved land rights unjustly removed from them.

It was humbling to join the “Pilgrimage for Peace” from the World Council of Churches as they traveled from Apartadó to the surrounding region February 3-5, 2018. Also with us were two other international accompaniment teams from Spain and Greece who are living in Apartadó, three local Presbyterian Pastors and the two PCUSA Young Adult Volunteers here in this Presbytery.

The first gathering was a get acquainted conversation at the Iglesia Presbiteriana de Apartadó. The next day journalists working on documentary and a New Yorker essay joined the pilgrimage. Sunday we traveled to honor two local human rights leaders who were assassinated for returning to their lands. Mario Castaño was killed in his home because he was an outspoken voice for land rights and human rights. His family shared their stories and his wife supervised serving lunch to 35 persons out of their simple kitchen.

Further down the road we stopped at the location where Hernán Bedoya was killed. He was a silent presence insisting on protection of rights. He was killed on the road side one night. In both locations, we held up signs spelling out “Sin olivido,” or “We will not forget you”. At the edge of the road where Hernán was killed we stood in the road itself to paint those words and Hernán’s name. Hernán’s youngest son joined the group painting and remembering his father. It was a witness to his work to all who were forced to slow down to avoid hitting our group. (More photos available at twitter feed of Jenny Neme Neiva or @wccpilgrimage.)

Next was a visit to a Humanitarian zone, which means a gun- and violence-free space protected by only barbed wire. A vibrant community lived there as they worked and waited for return of their rights to ancestral lands taking in the conflict. These people had obtained rights to this land which had been appropriated to be the headquarters of a large plantation (comprised of appropriated lands). This community is 5 km down the bumpiest, potholed, almost road we have experienced and then when we could go no further we got out and carried our gear another 2km. The group was warmly welcomed and dinner was served out of the communal kitchen with great joy. An extravagant meal of arroz con pollo and tinto coffee. We were able to mingle with Colombians and our fellow travelers. After dinner we gathered in the community church to end the day.