Pope Francis urged Colombians skeptical of a peace deal with guerrillas to be open to reconciliation with those who have repented, speaking hours after a top rebel leader asked the pontiff for forgiveness.
"Dear people of Colombia: do not be afraid of asking for forgiveness and offering it," he said, at an emotional meeting that brought together victims of the 50-year civil war with former guerrilla and paramilitary fighters.
The Argentine pope, leader of the world's Roman Catholics, is visiting Colombia with a message of national reconciliation, as the country tries to heal the wounds left by the conflict and bitter disagreements over a peace deal agreed last year.
Francis flew to the city of Villavicencio in Meta province, a vast cattle ranching area which was a hotbed of right-wing paramilitary and Marxist guerrilla violence during a conflict with successive governments.
The pope's afternoon prayer meeting in Villavicencio with about 6,000 survivors of the brutal conflict was the centerpiece of his five-day trip to overwhelmingly Catholic Colombia.
As he left Villavicencio, he stopped to pray at the Reconciliation Cross, a memorial to survivors and those killed during the war, and planted a tree as a symbol of peace.