November 10, 2011
Order to turn prison that housed narco-trafficking kingpin into religious site
- By Mike Ceaser
- Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)
BOGOTA, Colombia (CNS) – An infamous Colombian prison named "La Catedral," once home to narco-trafficking kingpin Pablo Escobar, soon will be turned into a center of prayer.
The administration of the prison site recently was given to the Monastic Brotherhood of St. Gertrude the Great, which plans to invest less than $60,000 to turn the ruins into a religious site and spiritual retreat. A cross will stand at the site of an old guard tower and a sculpture of St. Gertrude will look down on the city. The brotherhood also plans to build a chapel and rooms to serve as spiritual retreats.
When Colombian authorities finally were ready to arrest Escobar in 1991, he agreed to go to prison – but in a luxury facility built to his own specifications on a mountainside above the city of Medellin. From inside the prison, which was equipped with a soccer field, a waterfall and a giant dollhouse for his daughter, Escobar continued ruling his drug empire and ordering murders.
But Escobar lived there only one year and one month before learning that he was to be transferred to a real prison. He fled in July 1992, but was hunted down by police and shot dead on a rooftop the next year.
After Escobar's demise, the neighbors of the prison searched the grounds fruitlessly for valuables they believed Escobar had hidden there. Since then, the building has stood as a decaying reminder of the tyranny of the man who ruled the world's cocaine markets but also bought popularity by building homes and soccer fields for the city's poor.
During a ceremony before a Mass Sept. 2 at the prison, Benedictine Father Gilberto Jaramillo Mejia told journalists that "our presence here signifies our commitment ... to seeking pardon for that turbulent past, not just here but in all of the city and the nation."
"We are here to return to God that which belongs to him," Father Jaramillo said.
Hector Londono, mayor of the neighboring suburb of Envigado, said at the ceremony: "We want to convert a place of prison and pain into a center of prayer.
"We turn it over to be administered by the religious community for the enjoyment of the whole community," he said.