Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is a boom town. Its population, estimated at between three and five million, is growing so rapidly that officials can’t keep count. On a plateau 8,000 feet high in the northern Andes, it is a city of beauty and contrast. Here are the very rich and the very poor. Slum villages of lean-to shacks are squeezed between gleaming skyscrapers and the mountains that rise abruptly east of downtown. Crime, mostly of the purse-snatching variety, is a problem. Panhandlers furtively approach tourists with shiny green objects; they may be contraband emeralds from the nearby mines, they may be soda-bottle glass. Wages are low (Colombia’s per capita income is about $350), and so are some prices. A good steak dinner in a fine restaurant may cost $2.50.

Stretching for miles to the north are new neighborhoods of the middle and upper classes, many of them patroled by heavily armed private guards. To the south are the teeming barrios (suburban districts) of the lower classes. Modern industrial complexes are going up on the western edges of the city, close to the airport and other barrios. During working hours the main streets downtown are choked with crowded Blue Bird buses and ancient American cars. Students abound; there are twenty universities in the city.

Colombia, its 24 million population predominantly Catholic, was the last Latin American country to give legal status to foreign missionaries. Loyalties were fierce; in some areas Protestant services were constantly disrupted, members were harassed, Protestant church buildings were burned. Over the years, however, intense loyalty gave way to indifference, and the Catholic Church experienced spiritual decline. Some of its younger leaders drifted into Marxist ...

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