Colombian Bishop's visit highlights crisis in Choco

"When people are in ruts, God invites us to take risks and move forward". - Bishop Fidel Leon Cadavid.

On Monday, July 18, Bishop Fidel Leon Cadavid of the Diocese of Quibdo, Colombia, graced Catholic Relief Services with a visit. Followed by the celebration of Mass, the Bishop spoke to a group of CRS employees about the grave humanitarian crisis that Colombia faces today. Unrest caused by guerrilla and paramilitary conflict has displaced more than three million Colombians since 1990 and continues to displace over 290,000 people yearly. This number is second only, to the crisis of displaced people in Sudan. Colombia is also is plagued by a rapidly growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor that contributes to the nation's instability.

Bishop Cadavid ministers in an area of Colombia called Choco. Choco has a predominantly Afro-Columbian and indigenous population that lives along the river, an area highly coveted for its plentiful natural resources and strategic location. This location has made the population of Choco vulnerable to foreign elements. Guerrilla groups, who have geopolitical interests in the land, use fear tactics and collective genocide to rid the population, in turn affecting Columbia's high number of displaced individuals. In 2002, 119 civilians were killed in a church in Bojaya. This tragedy gained international attention to the dire human rights violations occurring in the region. People are trapped, victims of their own land.

Bishop Cadavid emphasized the importance of promoting self-organization among the communities. Communities in this region would have been long gone had they not continuously resisted the horrors of the guerrillas. The Catholic Church in Columbia has a significant role in the denunciation of violence.

"People feel safe and connected when the priest is present," Bishop Cadavid said.

"One of the primary problems facing Columbia today is the inability for people to voice their opinions and resistance. "The person that acts by himself- disappears."

Columbia is a country wrought with fear and in many areas where the Church is not, there is no one reproving the violence. This bravery on behalf of the clergy in Columbia has cost the lives of 41 Catholic clerics in the past 15 years to assassination.

This is why the work of CRS and other humanitarian organizations is urgently needed in regions like Choco. Without support and movements of solidarity, the people of Choco will remain fearful victims of violence, silenced by imminent threat.