Ecumenical accompaniment program launched in Colombia

Ecumenical accompaniment program launched in Colombia

An ecumenical accompaniment program has been launched to assist victims of violence in Colombia, where internal armed conflict has drive nearly five million people away from their land and property, according to the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI).

“The churches have been asked to break the silence and communicate all the atrocities taking place in Colombia,” the Rev. Carlos E. Ham, program executive for Diakonia and Latin America-Caribbean with the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), said on October 18.

In December 2009, Colombia’s attorney general reported 2,520 cases of forced disappearance, out of a total of 35,665 crimes confessed by paramilitary forces. A reported 2,388 burial pits were found in the country and 2,091 bodies exhumed, the report said.

Ecumenical accompaniers participate in the life of communities and work with local organisations that carry out non-violent actions to promote and defend justice and contribute to the protection and implementation of human rights. After volunteering in local communities, accompaniers return to their own communities to educate others about the crisis and advocate for an end to the violence.

The Latin American Council of Churches inspired the new initiative, which has “a strong ecumenical embrace with the involvement of many churches,” said Ham, who took part in the launch meeting in Bogota, Colombia, October 6-8.

The meeting, attended by representatives from the Lutheran World Federation, ACT Alliance, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, CLAI, and others, named the Rev. Chris Ferguson of the United Church of Canada as international coordinator.

Ferguson, who was one of the founders of a similar international monitoring program in Israel and Palestinian areas, will manage the program, identify accompaniers, raise the profiles of the communities and lead international advocacy.

Over the next year, places that are of acute interest to member churches will be identified and a more focused effort at accompanying the process in those places will develop, saaid Jim Hodgson, who represented the Canadian human rights organisation Kairos at the meeting.

The WCC’s Ham said the idea is to select people from the global North and the global South “to spend three to six months living in communities in rural areas” where people have been threatened, killed, or disappeared.

By John Zarocostas, Ecumenical News International and the Episcopal News Service.

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