March 12, 2017 at 9:37 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Pope Francis to visit Colombia

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the Colombian city of Cartagena in September has part of his trip to the South American country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

CARTAGENA, Colombia — The Vatican on March 10 announced that Pope Francis will travel to Colombia in September.

Francis is scheduled to arrive in the Colombian capital of Bogotá on Sept. 6. He is expected to visit the cities of Villavincencio, Medellín and Cartagena before returning to Rome on Sept. 11.

“To have the pope with us for four days, to know that he is coming exclusively to Colombia and that he will guide us as Colombians through our faith is a privilege that fills us with gratitude,” said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Saturday during a press conference in Bogotá with Cardinal Rubén Salazar, who is the archbishop of Bogotá, and other officials from the Vatican and the Colombian Roman Catholic Church. “We of course rejoice for the millions of Colombians who profess the Catholic faith but also for all of those who see the great spiritual leader of our time in his image and in his words.”

Pope John Paul II visited Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena and several other Colombian cities in 1986. Pope Paul VI traveled to Bogotá in 1968.

Francis will travel to Colombia nearly a year after Santos and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño, commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, signed a peace agreement that sought to end a war that began in 1962 and claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The pontiff supported the agreement, which ultimately acknowledged those who were victimized because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and contains references to LGBT Colombians’ participation in the country’s political process and “fundamental rights.” Voters narrowly rejected it on last October, but the Colombian Congress late last year approved a second agreement that also contains LGBT-specific references.

Santos on Saturday said the Vatican told his government in April 2015 that Francis was planning to visit to Colombia.

“We said then as we are saying today that we will receive him with open arms and hearts as a messenger of peace and reconciliation,” said Santos.

Pope opposes same-sex marriage, ‘gender theory’

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected pope in March 2013.

The Argentine-born pontiff has traveled to several Latin America countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Mexico and Cuba. Francis visited D.C., New York and Philadelphia in 2015.

The Vatican’s tone towards homosexuality and other LGBT-specific issues has become more moderate under Francis’ papacy, but advocates maintain church teachings have not changed.

Francis told a group of priests and seminarians with whom he met last October in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi that there is a “global war to destroy marriage.” The pope has also repeatedly spoken against “gender theory” and other gender-specific ideas.

Former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe and others who opposed the government’s decision to enter into peace talks with the FARC sharply criticized then-Education Minister Gina Parody over a proposed handbook that contained guidance on how schools can respond to LGBT-specific issues.

Mauricio Albarracín, the former executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT rights group, was among the LGBT activists who participated in peace talks that took place in Havana. He noted to the Washington Blade last week during an interview at his Bogotá home that Uribe, religious fundamentalists and others highlighted their opposition to “gender ideology” in the agreement in the weeks leading up to last October’s referendum.

“They connected this fear of the ideology with fear of the peace agreement,” said Albarracín. “They exploited that.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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