Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos passed away last month at the age of 88. In later life, the priest became a controversial figure for his handling of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. But earlier in his ministry career, he managed to reach out to one of the most feared men on the planet: Pablo Escobar. The notorious Columbian drug lord was well-known for his murderous drug-smuggling regime which made him a multi-billionaire in one of the poorest nations of South America. The story of their life-changing encounter is nothing short of extraordinary.
As archbishop of Bucaramanga, Hoyos used his position as a high-ranking Catholic leader to try and broker peace between the warring drug cartels. According to a 1999 Guardian article.
“Both sides trusted him and both sides turned to him as a mediator. Among his souvenirs of that period, his favorites are six rifle cartridges from both the guerrilla and military sides that he collected himself between two rounds of fire in a local skirmish. He mounted them on a silver base and named the ornament ‘Bullets of peace.'”
By the 1990s, the Colombian government was rapidly closing in on Escobar and he was stuck in his house with his personal security team. That’s when Hoyos, who was bishop at the time, stepped in. The priest managed to enter Escobar’s compound disguised as a milkman, which was a feat of its own. When Escobar, suspicious that he could be an assassin, demanded to know who sent him, Hoyos replied: “The one who will judge you.”
Hoyos decided to take his opportunity to implore Escobar, who was responsible for around 3,000 deaths, to confess his sins and to leave his criminal past behind. Astonishingly, Escobar agreed. According to ChurchPop, Escobar confessed his sins to the bishop right then and there. He also vowed to close down his entire criminal empire, on one condition: that the Colombian government would stop pursuing him.
In the Guardian article, Cardinal Hoyos recalled Escobar’s chilling final words: “If have to kill the whole of Colombia just to stay here with my wife, I’ll do it without flinching.”
The bishop then left, and reportedly carried Escobar’s message to the government, who promptly refused the warlord’s offer. Shortly after this extraordinary series of events, Escobar was shot dead by government authorities as he attempted to flee across the rooftops of his hometown, Medellin.