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Colombian Mennonite churches call for days of prayer and action

   

March 30, 2009
- Staff, from reports by Rebecca Bartel and Cathryn Clinton

BOGOTÁ, Colombia - Colombian Mennonite churches are asking 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. Then on April 20, churches are called to make a public witness by sharing stories, speaking with government officials, holding public vigils and doing other advocacy activities.

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.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, Colombia faces the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the hemisphere.

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.

A recent human rights report 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. The report "A Prophetic Call," can be found at www.justapaz.org/spip.php?article111.

An online packet of worship resources and advocacy material - including prayers, a bulletin insert and a sample letter to lawmakers can be found at www.mcc.org/us/washington/days.

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

Rebecca Bartel is a Mennonite Church Canada Mission Associate in Colombia. Cathryn Clinton is a writer for MCC.