BY LUKE COPPEN
A LEADING Colombian bishop emerged from rebel captivity last Friday proclaiming that God had given him back his life so it could put it at the service of his troubled homeland.
Bishop Jorge Jimenez Carvajal was freed by the Colombian army after a gunfight that left at least one of the bishop's captors dead. News reports said about 350 soldiers participated in the rescue operation.
Bishop Jimenez, president of the Latin American bishops' council, and a priest, Fr Desiderio Orjuela, were kidnapped on November 11 in the bishop's Diocese of Zipaquira while both were trayellMg to attend a ceremony 35 miles north of the capital, Bogota. Looking tired and unshaven, but overjoyed, Bishop Jimenez and Fr Orjuela were flown in a military helicopter to an army base in Bogota, where they were mobbed by family members, camouflage-clad soldiers and journalists.
"God granted me life once
again so I can put it at the service of my homeland," Bishop Jimenez told reporters at an impromptu press conference upon arriving at the base.
Asked if he had feared for his life, he said: "I always have faith in God."
At the time of the kidnapping, the Latin American bish ops' council said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was responsible.
Pope John Paul II, other high-ranking Vatican officials, and bishops from the United States, Latin America, Europe and Canada were among Church leaders calling for the immediate release of the bishop and priest. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls expressed "enormous joy" at the release, and said he hoped Colombia's violence would soon come to an end.
FARC still holds dozens of kidnapped politicians, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and a state governor, as well as soldiers, police and ordinary civilians. More than 3,000 people were taken hostage in Colombia last year alone.