Colombian bishop leads dramatic hostage rescue bid
A Colombian bishop staged a bold mission to obtain the release of hostages held by rebel forces, leading 500 people from his diocese into a dramatic confrontation with the guerillas, a Bogota journal has reported.
Bishop Jorge Leonardo Gomez Serna of Mangangue, along with a French priest, Fr Francisco de Roux, organised a convoy of 30 vehicles to venture into the jungle last weekend, searching for guerillas associated with either of Colombia's two main rebel groups: the National Liber Army (ELN) or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Maria Cristina Caballero, a journalist affiliated with the daily El Tiempo, joined in the convoy, and described the experience in a lengthy article published by El Tiempo on Wednesday.
Bishop Gomez Serna and Fr de Roux (who heads the Social Concerns office for the Mangangue diocese) led the convoy in their blue Toyota all-terrain vehicle. "The group was determined to obtain the release of their kidnapped fellow citizens from the guerillas at any cost," Caballero wrote.
Eventually the convoy encountered ELN guerillas, and the bishop demanded a meeting with their leaders. After some negotiations, a local commander identified as "Samuel" appeared with several aides. The bishop then surprised the group by beginning to pray the Rosary, and in a second surprise the guerilla leaders joined in the prayer.
"Samuel" announced that he would release one hostage immediately, and others in coming days. But Fr de Roux rejected that offer. "If you are waiting for us to thank you, we will not," the priest said. "Freedom is a right that comes from God, and by releasing hostages you are only recognising that right-- not doing us any favour."
Santa Rosa dice 'no más' (El Tiempo 4/9/02)
Bishop Jorge Leonardo Gómez Serna, O.P. (catholic-hierarchy.org)
6 Sep 2002