President of Colombia Acknowledges Role of Church in Country's Transformation

The President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, has paid tribute to the positive role of the church in Colombia at the annual conference of the International Charismatic Mission church in Bogotá on Wednesday 24 January.

|PIC1|In recognition of the influence of the church in bringing transformation to Colombia and cultivating a positive image of the nation abroad, President Uribe said he came "with great affection" to visit the church.

"Here I encounter a great spiritual energy that helps many in the advancement of Colombia."

"As president, when I look at my agenda I meet many people: bankers, industrialists, unions, professors, engineers, international governments, ministers and senators. However, occasionally I am able to attend meetings of a spiritual nature. It is this reason that I am here this afternoon. I come to be influenced by the spiritual energy that you radiate for the good of Colombia and all of the countries that you represent."

The church, with over 250,000 members, has grown rapidly since its founding in 1983 with just eight members. It has a small group structure, called cell groups, and encourages every member to mentor 12 people - based on the example of Jesus and his disciples.

The 12th International Convention, entitled 'His Hand Upon Me', ran from 22 to 27 January. Ron Kenoly was a guest worship leader and Tommy Tenney a guest speaker.

In front of more than 15,000 people at the 'El Campin' Coliseum, Pastors Cesar and Claudia Castellanos honoured the president for his presence at the church meeting.

Claudia Castellanos, who was elected senator in 2006 for the pro-Uribe party, Radical Change, encouraged President Uribe to persevere in his quest for a permanent peace in Colombia.

"According to the size of your challenge will be the size of your victory." She assured the president, who has faced many assassination attempts on his life, that "there are many more who love you than those hate you."

In a nation that has experienced decades of violence and corruption because of guerrilla warfare and drug trafficking, President Uribe spoke of the need for truth to secure a lasting peace. "May the truth flourish...The truth is not to stimulate hatred but so that reconciliation can take place." He told the people not to be afraid of the truth.

Addressing the violence present in Colombia, President Uribe asked that all Colombians would respect life as "a precious gift from God".

With poverty standing at 60 per cent, he spoke of the need for free commerce and capitalism to flourish, "not wild capitalism, but Christian capitalism - private enterprise, not exploitation of workers but solidarity, investment that comes with the spirit of brotherhood. We will overcome poverty with equity."

In a message to the 11,000 international delegates from 256 churches, he asked for their assistance: "Help us to spread what Colombia is doing. We need the entire world to help us in the task to defeat drugs that finance terror. With God's help we will overcome the drug trafficking. We need the help of Europe, the United States and all industrialised nations to end the offer and demand of cocaine."

President Uribe ended by paying a tribute to the pastors, "Many thanks Pastor Cesar, my admiration is infinite. Senator Claudia, you have my respect and gratitude."

He received a standing ovation after his speech and was visibly moved as the crowd chanted "Uribe for Christ".

Before leaving the service, President Uribe agreed to the request of Pastor Castellanos to pray with him every week.