Guillermo MESA VELÁSQUEZ, Salvatorian priest of the Society of the Divine Savior (SDS), was born in Medellín, Colombia and is known as the “shepherd who smells like sheep”. His life covers more than eighty years characterized by coherence and radicalism, his total dedication to humility, service, empathy, joy, solidarity and respect for autonomy, diversity, freedom and democracy.
Since 1976, along with the Salvatorian priest Pablo Salazar Giraldo (RIP), his brother in struggles and adventures, and inspired by “the option for the poor and justice”, Guillermo decided to dedicate his life, until now, to working for peace and the transformation of conditions of social inequality. For the people and with the people, he inserted himself into the poorest and most oppressed peasant and urban communities of Colombia: a country torn and bloodied by violence of every kind.
His life’s work has been marked by the creation of community-based popular education processes. A test was first carried out in the Zapamanga 2 neighborhood of the Bucaramanga metropolitan area, where he went to live in a rented house to undertake his pastoral, social, political and cultural work. As a result of his work with this community, various social fabric construction processes emerged, including the popular library which has become the COCUZA community cultural center, and the weekly journal “La Muralla”.
Improving conditions for women was a priority in his work with the Housewives Club. The goal was to empower and develop social and economic leadership among women, through socio-political training courses that could help them achieve economic independence. This work continues, long after Father Guillermo’s departure.
Having suffered persecution, even from the archbishop, he had to leave Bucaramanga in 1984 to settle in the “Ladera” sector of the city of Cali, a socially marginalized place, where he still lives. The school in the area and the actions to claim the right to water began with hard work. Likewise, it has forged groups with boys, girls and young people in contexts of violence, drug addiction and high risk of crime, offering them psychological support, therapy and employability workshops.
In his life story woven with people and communities, he made valuable contributions to the construction of community networks such as the formation of the Popular Missionary Movement, later called Missionaries for Life, the Ecclesial Base Communities, the Ecumenical Table for Peace, human rights organizations, trade unions and women’s organizations, among others. Since 1983, he has supported the various stages of the peace accords between the Colombian government and various guerrilla movements, each time advocating for the inclusion of the rights of marginalized communities.
In his journey alongside the poor and for their liberation, Guillermo declares that his work is to sow seeds of peace to build a better world: where there will be a place for everyone and the right to inhabit this planet Earth in harmony, empathy and peace will be respected. Without a doubt, he is the embodiment of a life dedicated to working for equity and social justice as the foundations of peace, helping to weave another story for Colombia.
Without a doubt, it can be said that Guillermo Mesa is the paradigm of a life dedicated to working for equity and social justice as the foundations of peace, thus helping to weave another history for Colombia.
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