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Pope Offers Vatican Assistance for Colombia Peace Process

  • Associated Press

Pope Francis smiles onboard the papal plane during his return to Rome, from Asuncion, Paraguay, July 13, 2015.

Pope Francis smiles onboard the papal plane during his return to Rome, from Asuncion, Paraguay, July 13, 2015.

Pope Francis is calling for the peace process in Colombia to go ahead and is offering the Holy See's assistance if it might help.

Francis, who was on his way home Monday from his South America trip, said he was concerned about the negotiations and that "it would be an ugly thing'' if the talks do not go ahead.

"We are always disposed to help, we have so many ways to help,'' he told reporters.

Colombia's government and leftist rebels announced Sunday they had agreed to accelerate peace negotiations and will attempt to negotiate a cease-fire even before reaching an agreement to bring an end to the country's five-decade-old conflict.

The announcement came as faith in the three-year-old negotiations sunk to a record low after battlefield violence intensified in recent months.

In comments to reporters aboard the papal plane, Francis was more circumspect about wading into Bolivia's longstanding border dispute with Chile. Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific Ocean during the War of the Pacific with Chile in 1879-83. Bolivia has recently taken its bid to renegotiate access to the Pacific to the International Court of Justice, which hasn't yet ruled on whether it will take the case.

During his visit, Francis stressed the need for dialogue among all countries in Latin America, especially with reference to the sea dispute. He was asked Sunday to go farther, and whether he supported Bolivia's bid to change its borders.

"At this point, I have to be very respectful regarding this because Bolivia has made an appeal to an international organ. If I make a comment, I'm a head of state, it could be interpreted as me trying to meddle in the sovereignty of another state.''

Overall, he praised the Latin American church as young and fresh — and said that the rest of the world can learn from it.

"I've wished to give encouragement to this young church and I believe that this church can give us much,'' he said. "It can also be an undisciplined church but with time it will become disciplined. But it will give us so much good.''

Despite the exhaustion of the trip, Francis was in humorous form during the hour-long airborne press conference, quipping that he might break into Guarani at any moment. (Francis twice led the faithful in Paraguay in the "Our Father'' prayer in the native language). He also said he felt like a "great-grandfather'' when young people asked to take selfies with him.

"It's another culture,'' he said, adding "I respect it.''