Bogotá, Colombia | Shirley Rueda/Inter-American Division Staff

The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a historic decree earlier this month to make July 4 a national day of religious liberty and freedom of worship for the country. More than 100 religious leaders, including Adventist leaders, witnessed the signing at Casa de Nariño, or the president’s residence and government headquarters in Bogotá, on July 4, 2016.

President Santos commented that it was the shortest decree he had ever signed in six years, but one that carried great symbolism and importance, as the country moves toward peace after 52 years of armed conflict.

Alvaro Niño, religious liberty director for South Colombia, was elated as he witnessed the signing, especially since the Adventist Church has promoted religious liberty in the capital city for more than a decade.

It was precisely 10 years ago that Niño and Adventist leaders in Bogotá began organizing a group of religious leaders from different faiths and soon formed the Confederación Colombiana de Libertad e Igualdad Religiosa, or Colombian Federation Religious Liberty and Equality, which has become a respected entity recognized by the government’s Ministry of the Interior.

“This brings me great joy to see this accomplishment. This decree is a reaffirmation that the national government is recognizing the work of bringing harmony and acknowledging the religious identity of the Colombian people,” said Niño. “We see great spaces opening up with the process of peace, with the positive work that churches can weave into the society.”

Colombia became the third country in South America to commemorate religious liberty and freedom of worship with a decree since the UN’s Resolution A/RES/68/169 was approved in 2013. Argentina and Brazil have also signed a national day for religious liberty and freedom of worship.

Niño took a moment to greet and hand President Santos a copy of the “Camino a la Paz” (The Road to Peace or the Road Map to Life) by Ellen G. White, a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. “We wanted to give him this book which points how it is possible for human beings to find the true way to a lasting peace by the grace of God,” explained Niño.

More than 2 million copies of the book “The Road Map to Life” will be distributed across Colombia this year, church leaders said.

President Santos thanked Niño for the contribution that the Adventist Church is doing in Colombia. The Head of State acknowledged the faith principles and values the Adventist Church fosters in the hearts of persons to lead them into the way of peace.

“Churches have their function to do in promoting religious liberty and freedom of worship so that the government can guarantee that process of peace, after more than 50 years of conflict in the nation,” said Niño. “The Adventist Church will continue to promote the religious freedom so that individuals can learn what their rights are as they worship.”