Colombia: a town still wary, 10 years after attack by Marxist rebels

Church destroyed by rebel combatants in Colombia, 2002.

Ten years ago the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) murdered 78 members of the parish of Bojayá, including 48 children, who had taken refuge in the church of St. Paul the Apostle in Bojayá, about 380 km to the northwest of Bogotà. On that day, 119 persons in total died.

The people of Bojayá remember that on May 2, 2002, FARC and a group of rival paramilitary forces clashed in the streets of the town. Approximately 400 civilians went to seek protection in a local Catholic church. The parish priest, Father Anton Ramos, tried to keep the situation under control by asking everyone to pray and hold hands. Outside the church's doors the sounds of gunfire and fighting raged.

The FARC wanted to eliminate the paramilitary forces, and began to throw grenades, according to the testimony of Father Ramos. Two grenades were thrown over a house and behind the school, the third against the church. It was thus that the lives of 78 people, mostly children, were lost. After the explosion Father Ramos improvised a white flag and led the group outside the church, shouting that they were civilians and that everyone's life had to be respected.

But the FARC wanted to seize power in that area of Colombia, and showed no regard for life or property. On the same day, the house of the Missionary Sisters of St. Augustine was hit. Many wound were taking refuge there, among the 130 civilians who were hiding after a fourth grenade was thrown by the FARC.

Speaking to a local radio station during an interview about the events of 10 years ago, Fr. Ramos recalled "That day, 119 people were murdered in the village. Today, despite the presence of the police, there are still gangs in our small town and therefore the risk of conflict endures."

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