Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough travelled to Colombia in March with Catholic aid agency CAFOD, and invited Monsignor Héctor Fabio Henao – a leading figure in the Colombian peace process – to visit England in June along with two renowned community leaders, Mrs Mélida Esther Guevara and Mr Jesús Alberto Castilla Salazar.
Mgr Henao, Director of Social Action in the Colombian Catholic Church, hit the headlines in 2003 when he negotiated the release of British cameraman Mark Henderson, who was held hostage for more than 100 days by Colombian guerrillas. Mgr Henao will join Bishop Drainey to celebrate the 10.00am Mass on 5th June at St Mary’s Cathedral in Coulby Newham.
The Colombian visitors will also speak on Saturday 4th June at Holy Name of Mary Parish Hall (1pm – 2.30pm) and St Joseph’s parish (6pm) during evening Mass, where they will describe to parishioners the dangers they have faced in their fight for peace, justice and human rights in their communities. Mr Salazar was forcibly displaced from his home in 2002 by paramilitaries who had taken control and stolen land in the region.
They will explain how people in the UK can help them to bring about peace and justice by supporting organisations like CAFOD, which supports programmes to promote human rights, peace and reconciliation and offers counselling and support to enable people uprooted by the conflict to rebuild their lives and start new businesses.
Speaking in advance of the visit, Bishop Drainey said: “I was very generously welcomed into the homes and lives of people in Colombia during my recent visit there with Chris Bain, the director of CAFOD. It is my pleasure to reciprocate some of that kindness and generosity in welcoming Mgr Henao to the diocese of Middlesbrough and especially to our Cathedral.”
“As Christians we believe that peace depends on justice. That is why the Catholic Church’s support for communities seeking to recover land stolen from them in the Colombian conflict is so important. In the name of the Church in Middlesbrough, I offer them our support and prayers.”
Head of CAFOD Middlesbrough Carol Cross said: “It’s an honour to welcome our Colombian guests to Middlesbrough. We’re hoping CAFOD supporters and the wider public will welcome them and support their efforts to bring peace and justice to Colombia after 50 years of conflict.
“We are asking the UK government to ensure that British businesses do not profit from the 6 million hectares of land stolen by armed groups, and that trade with Colombia respects human rights. We want them to urge the Colombian government to approve and enforce a law giving victims greater rights. It is important that the Colombian government knows that people in the UK are monitoring their actions.”