Her name is Pastora Mira Garcia and through acts of Christian love and forgiveness in the face of hatred and violence, she has become one of Colombia’s best-known women of faith as her nation is still grappling with the aftermath of decades of unrelenting violence.
The past 60 years saw an armed struggle involving Marxist guerrillas, government troops and extreme right-wing militias.
By the time a controversial peace deal was struck with the largest guerrilla group in 2016, by some estimates as many as 900,000 people had died in the conflict and seven million Colombians were displaced.
In September 2017, when Pope Francis visited the country, Pastora was chosen to address the Pope and the nation at large to give a testimony of her commitment to Christ’s commandment to “love one another”.
She tells her story in this interview. From the beginning, it has been the charism of the charity to promote reconciliation and forgiveness.
ON April 4, 1960, my father Francisco Mira was killed by political rivals.
I was four years old when his nine children were forced to see his murder. Pushing my mother aside, they shot him and then beheaded him in front of us.
In 1999, my mother suffered a heart attack and died when militants of one of the country’s warring factions knocked down the neighbours’ front door.
In 2001, my daughter Paola took her five-year-old daughter along when she went to work at a rural school; they were captured by militants; two days later, they returned the girl, that is, my granddaughter.
The family entered a very dark night, wondering what had become of Paola.
We managed to recover her body after more than seven years of walking through fields and up and down mountains.
I had insisted that de-mining equipment was brought in so that we could conduct our search safely.
My younger brother was also seized on a highway and neither he nor the people who travelled with him have ever reappeared.
On May 4, 2005, an illegal armed group took my 18-year-old son into captivity for 15 days.
Then they murdered him and left him lying in the road.
At that time, I said: “Lord, I am giving him back to you.”
Although not everyone goes to college, we are all attending the University of Life.
Before my mother’s death, I went to work in a village where I heard the name of my father’s murderer and asked my mother if he was the man who killed Dad, and she replied: “Yes, my daughter, but we have no right to do anything about it, nor to hurt him.”
It took me some time to investigate and when at last I came to that house far away, I did not meet a man, but a wreck of a human being.
It would have been very easy, given the circumstances in which he lived, to poison his food or use some other method to end his life – but fortunately I had received that message from my mother.
I sat crying on the way back and made the decision to frequently visit him, along with some people who visited the sick; to help him heal, to bring him food and clothes.
We did so for a long time.
I had learned a very important lesson; when the mother of my father’s murderer asked her son one day, “Do you know who that person is who has been taking care of you? She is one of the many orphans you have left behind. She is the daughter of Pacho Mira”.
He never looked me in the eye again. I understood that guilt is worse than pain.
On May 19, 2005, attending to my son’s vault in a mausoleum I felt a need to look up, and I saw a sculpture depicting of the Pietà.
I said to the Virgin: “Madrecita (dear Mother), forgive me for crying for my son, when I should stay calm because I had the blessing of being a mother.”
Three days later, on my way home, I saw a young man who belonged to one of the illegal armed groups.
He was hurt and crying out in pain.
We brought him home.
He was hungry; I gave him some food and coffee, plus a pair of shorts and a shirt that had belonged to my son.
A friend who was a nurse came and we washed his wound.
This young man lay down on my son’s bed and, seeing his pictures on the wall, asked: “Why are there photos of that dude we killed a few days ago?”
We were all shocked, my daughters and I, and the boy started crying and talking. I begged my dear God that it not be with a mother’s heart that I would be feeling, nor be listening to the boy with a mother’s ears – that He help me.
In the end, I told the young man: “This is your bed and this is your bedroom.”
The boy cried and talked – it was as if we were giving him a beating. I passed him the phone and told him: “There is a mum worried about you somewhere, please call her.”
I went to talk to my daughters, who said: “Mum, he cannot get out of here alive.”
I answered them: “Tell me what you want me to do, but the only thing I ask of you in return is that, when I finish being a murderer like him, you guarantee that my child is going to be sitting here with us.”
They understood that it should not be an eye for an eye, nor a tooth for a tooth.
I went back to the boy and said: “Look, you cannot stay here anymore; go to a hospital.”
He left and returned that same year in August, now demobilised and disarmed. When he used to meet me, he greeted me saying, “Mum”.
That December he died in a drug-related incident.
His mother came to collect the body and I had the opportunity of helping her take the body back to her municipality.
There is a fundamental principle: “Love one another. Lord, to the one who has hurt me, forgive him; heal me and make it so that, through your forgiveness, I can look him in the eye as a human being with the right to make mistakes – and to know that in his mistakes it was he who has failed.”
Today, Pastora is dedicated to CARE, the Spanish acronym loosely translated as the Centre for Getting Close to Reconciliation.
She founded it 13 years ago to discover different ways to promote the reconciliation of victims and perpetrators.
Pastora is convinced that the way to bring reintegration is to fully understand what has happened; that is the foundation for genuine emotional and spiritual healing.