Pope talks reconciliation in Guatemala
Wearied by 36 years of civil war, Guatemalans welcomed John Paul II as a "Messenger of Hope", the name given to the Grupo TACA Airbus-320 which brought him from Toronto.
Indeed, the first words the Pope spoke, upon arrival at La Aurora airport, were to promote reconciliation and hope in this bloodstained country.
"I fervently hope that the noble Guatemalan people, who thirst for God and for spiritual values, who are anxious for peace, solidarity and justice, may live and enjoy the dignity which is theirs," he said.
"Thank you, Your Holiness, for being a messenger of peace and reconciliation for our peoples," said President Alfonso Antonio Portillo Cabrera, echoing his country's sentiment in his welcome to the Pope.
Guatemalans are well aware that John Paul II has long promoted dialogue and reconciliation as the only solution to the Central American nation's conflict which left 200,000 dead and sent 1 million of the couintry's 13 million population as refugees to Mexico.
On Friday, the Pope proposed a new gesture of reconciliation in Guatemala, when he asked President Portillo to put an end to capital punishment in the country. In response, Portillo sent a proposal to Congress on Monday to abolish the death penalty.
The atmosphere during this papal visit is in great contrast to that of 1983, when Guatemala was at the height of its civil war. On that occasion the Holy Father made a similar appeal, but the de facto president, General Efraín Ríos Montt, defied the papal request and executed six people three days before John Paul II's arrival.
Pope inspire Guatemala (Boston Globe)
Seeking reconciliation in Guatemala (Digital Freedom Network)
32 Aug 2002