Solidarity visitor from Colombia shares human rights struggles

April 1, 2015
By Heidi Matthews, Hamilton Diocesan Council Chair
Heidi Matthews (Hamilton Diocesan Chair), His Excellency Bishop Douglas Crosby (Diocese of Hamilton), Father Franco, Rosa Odalmis Delis (Translator)

From March 13th to the 17th, the Diocese of Hamilton was blessed to have a Solidarity Visitor, Fr. Alberto Franco, CSsR, from Columbia.

Fr. Franco is the Executive Secretary of Development and Peace’s partner, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP). He has been an ardent defender of human rights for over 20 years and has been accompanying Afro-Colombians, indigenous peoples and peasant farmers in defending and reclaiming their lands.

In his presentations to students, parishioners, Bishop Crosby and Development and Peace members, Fr. Franco highlighted the violations and threats to human and environmental rights in Colombia created by the mining and agri-business industries. With the signing of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, life has not improved for the poorest citizens in this country, which has one of the highest income inequalities in the world.

However, Fr. Franco finds there is much to be hopeful for as peace talks between the government and guerrilla groups are moving forward. The papacy of Pope Francis holds great promise for more focus on the poor and on the Earth. There are new movements within the Church working for justice and peace in Colombia and in partnership with other Latin American countries.

Fr. Franco expressed much gratitude for the solidarity of Development and Peace through its “Life Before Profit” and “A Voice for Justice” campaigns, both which asked the government to ensure that Canadian commercial interests do not supersede the needs of our sisters and brothers in other countries. He was also grateful for the financial support from Development and Peace that allows CIJP to work for the cause of land rights in Colombia.

When asked for his observations after having met so many Development and Peace members, he said that three particular things stood out for him:

1. Development and Peace has firm foundations in the Canadian Catholic Church;
2. Surprisingly to him, much of Development and Peace is made up of volunteers; and
3. Development and Peace is firmly rooted in social justice.

Fr. Franco’s visit affirmed the critical work and support of Development and Peace and he touched the hearts of those he met with his warmth, passion, courage and dedication in his struggle for land rights in Colombia.