Colombian priest, Father Franco, visits Peterborough
Three lively community groups came together in Peterborough on March 22 to meet Father Alberto Franco, a Redemptorist priest and dedicated human rights defender from Bogota, Colombia.
Father Franco leads the Colombian Justice and Peace Commission in a dangerous and unstable atmosphere. He is known to Amnesty International as the subject of an Urgent Action appeal two years ago. He was threatened many time and shot at once. He smiles as he admits that, at the behest of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, he now travels with guards.
Father Franco’s work involves accompanying peasants and indigenous people in the region of Choco in northern Colombia as they strive, first to survive in a warring area, and then to return home and re-establish communities of peace. His office provides legal and social-psychological support, education and communication for exploited groups as they assert their rights to livelihood and stability.
For many years Colombia has been rent with conflict as the wealthy and corporations grab land for cash crops or minerals. Father Franco hailed the recent Amnesty campaign, “Life before Profit” targeting mining companies, including Canadian ones.
Just this week, Amnesty issued an Urgent Action calling for messages to President Juan Santos for the safety of four of Father Franco’s colleagues.
The three Peterborough groups were Development and Peace, the Catholic organization which brought Fr Franco here as their Lenten visitor, the local Colombian refugee community led by Sister Ruth Henessey of Casa Maria House, and Amnesty Group 46.
The gathering showed the depth of Canadian concern for Colombia and the strength to be found in unity among grassroots groups.