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Interreligious Task Force on Central America with Mr. Camargo Varela


On Monday evening, May 22nd, we went to an Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) program that took place in the social hall at St. Patrick's Church on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland. It featured a presentation by Mr. Jhon Henry Camargo Varela who at age 26 is entering his 4th year of service on a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. Mr. Varela's English was limited so he was accompanied by Mr. Chris Knestrick who translated for him. Together, Mr. Varela and Mr. Knestrick were a powerful duo and "powerful" is also a good word to describe what they had to say as they traced the roots of of the civil war in Columbia that has been going on for 50 years now and the intricacies of the struggles for power taking place between the rich and the poor, the government, the police, the military, the guerrillas and the paramilitaries that have resulted in the displacement of millions of people.

During the Q and A we clarified that although many Colombians sought or currently seek refuge in Ecuador (not too many attempt to somehow immigrate to the U.S.) most of the displacement has been internal; in fact, according to what we read online at "Columbia Reports" as of June, 2016 "Columbia continues to be the country with the most internally displaced people in the world with 6.9 million uprooted citizens and counting according to the United Nations refugee agency."


Mr. Varela also talked about his role as a Christian Peacemaker Team member (as is Mr. Knestrick) which was described in the IRTF literature as "an information bridge between communities and organizations that practice nonviolent resistance as well as various coalitions at the local, regional, national, and international level, generating alliances that support human rights processes."

Mr. Varela, himself, saw his role as providing physical, pastoral and political accompaniment to those who need help. In the physical sense, he travels with people and stays at their homes in hopes that his presence will lessen the chances of them being hurt. His work is pastoral because relationships are built that years ago would not have been possible; for example, LGBT and those previously very opposed to homosexuality, due to religious beliefs, being able to love each other as human beings and work together for the common good. Lastly, in the political sense, CPT's guide the citizenry through the very cumbersome process of governmental and economic reform mostly at the local level. Accordingly, on all levels of accompaniment, the key to success is solidarity or the ability of the various groups seeking social/political/economic reforms to work together and thus be strong.

The social hall was filled with people and we said hello to Father Bob Begin who we haven't see for a while and Mr. Marty Langois, who we met the previous day at the Cleveland Asian Festival.

In addition, we were all provided with an excellent Colombian dinner prepared by our friend Dr. Julio Aponte. Among the various dishes offered (all scrumptious) were garbanzo with soya, polla with salsa de alcaparras, fritata (cheese egg rice), arroz y maiz dulce, and swiss chard with cheese. Dr. Aponte really outdid himself and we were all united in solidarity regarding appreciation of the delectable food and the informative program-both of which came to us from the heart.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC