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Pope invites young Colombian from the Raizal community to the Vatican

Recently the Colombian island territory was hit by the devastating effects of hurricanes Eta and Iota.

"I would like to express my closeness to the people of Central America, hit by strong hurricanes. In particular, I recall the Island of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina, as well as the Pacific coast of the north of Colombia. I pray for all the countries who are suffering as a result of these disasters."

The pope is familiar with the problems of the Colombian island territory and invited Efraín Sanmiguel, a journalist and activist from the Raizal community, to a private audience.

He is currently studying in France. From there, he is developing social programs to be applied in the San Andres and Providencia Islands.

Colombian Journalist
“I did not expect such a warm welcome from Pope Francis. I feel that he was very receptive to the letter that I read to him, a very intimate letter that explains the socio-economic and cultural framework of all that the islands represent. The pope understood the importance of making a difference between the particularities that each of the Afro-descendant communities in Colombia experience in their origins, in their daily lives, in their reality.”

It denounces an identity and social conflict among the population, issues that increased after hurricanes struck.

In the midst of the tragedy, he highlights the role of the Church in his community through social ministry.

Colombian Journalist
“The hurricane and the devastation it caused was like a wake-up call to rediscover all these conflicts that have been occurring. The Colombian citizens are aware of the state’s abandonment of the archipelago. I believe that the Church has been working in the islands in a silent way. It is important to understand that this is more than a matter of religion. It is a matter of human rights.”

Efraín is the youngest member of a special group of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development, which promotes a space for reflection on solutions to the Colombian armed conflict. From there, he is the voice of the Raizal community.

Colombian Journalist
"The descendants of Raizales, who are fighting for autonomy and their rights, are there to preserve the memory of the community. On the other hand, they are also part of the Colombian population. We are all proudly Colombian. Many of them do not know if they should identify themselves as Raizales, as San Andresanos. I believe that we have to help young people feel a true spirit of belonging to the territory."

Efraín hopes to return to Colombia to continue working on the challenges the Raizal community is facing. They range from reconstructing and strengthening their cultural identity, educational programs, and boosting technologies in the area, including a desalination plant.

Daniel Díaz Vizzi
Translation: Christian Campos