By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Sept 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Pope Francis, visiting a war-torn region of Colombia, on Friday said women are weighed down by patriarchal and chauvinistic customs and violence against women is widespread.
The Argentine pontiff, saying mass in the central plains city of Villavicencio, told his listeners that the Bible celebrates women who were strong and influential.
The pope has received a warm welcome in Colombia, a majority Roman Catholic nation that is known for its macho culture and high levels of gender violence.
"In communities where we are still weighed down with patriarchal and chauvinistic customs, it is good to note that the Gospel begins by highlighting women who were influential and made history," the pope said in a homily that was repeatedly interrupted by applause.
Francis urged reconciliation and forgiveness in Colombia, which is emerging from a five decade-war that killed 200,000 people.
The 2016 peace accord between the government and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was hailed by the United Nations as putting an unprecedented focus on women's rights by recognizing how they suffered in the conflict.
About 20,000 Colombians, most of them women and girls, were victims of rape and sexual violence, a weapon used by all sides in Colombia's war, government data shows.
Women disproportionately have borne the brunt of displacement, with seven million Colombians forced from their homes.
The pope talked about Joseph, the biblical father of Jesus Christ, in a mass attended by about 400,000 people.
"And today, in this world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident, Joseph is presented as a figure of the respectful and sensitive man."
One woman is killed every four days in Colombia, often at the hands of a former or current partner.
In 2015, nearly 41,000 women reported suffering abuse at the hands of their partners, with 80 percent of attacks occurring inside the home, according to Colombia's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.
Reproductive women's rights groups say the Roman Catholic Church's stance opposing abortion and not allowing female priests undermines women's rights and control over their bodies.
Last year, Pope Francis indefinitely extended to all priests the ability to grant absolution for abortions, seen as a historic move for the church, which has been decidedly against the practice.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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