World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Message on the massacre in the church of Bellavista

Letter to the churches of Colombia

10 May 2002

Letter to the churches of Colombia, 10 May 2002.

[Translated from Spanish]

Sisters and brothers in Christ.

News has reached us from several sources of the deaths during a confrontation between paramilitary forces and those of the FARC on May 2nd of more than a hundred civilian refugees (including forty children) in a church in Bellavista in the Municipality of Bojayá-Chocó. Yet again we are reminded of the clear biblical commandment, "You shall not kill" (Exodus 20:13), and of the fact that lack of obedience to this commandment has regrettably become habitual in different places in Colombia.

The magnitude of this tragedy shows yet again the consequences of armed conflict for the civilian population. Our hearts grieve at the spectacle of violence that exceeds the limits of the imaginable. We think particularly of the families of the children, youth, women and men who have died or been gravely injured, and we share their pain.

We have repeatedly expressed our concern about the intensification of the armed confrontation that has also targeted the churches, which historically have been regarded as sanctuaries in different conflicts around the world, a role recognized in international humanitarian law.

Once again we appeal for peace, knowing that the Colombian people deeply longs for it. We energetically reject all notions that an armed solution is possible. Recent years have shown that the implementation of "Plan Colombia" has in fact increased violence in various regions. We recognize and support the efforts for peace and reconciliation made in this context by the Christian churches, and through you we extend to the families of the victims our sincere sympathy.

We ask the churches to share our message with the actors immediately involved - the FARC and the paramilitary - and with the Government, which had been alerted ahead of time by several NGOs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the People's Defense organization that the populations of Bojayá and Vigía del Fuerte were in danger.

As we pray for peace for the Colombian people, we shall continue to accompany the different ecumenical initiatives that work to overcome the present situation. Committed to the "Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace," we shall spare no effort to pursue diligently and creatively the injunction of the Psalmist, "seek peace, and pursue it." (Psalm 34:14).

(Rev.) Dwain C. Epps

Commission of the Churches on
International Affairs