Pope Francis is en route to Colombia today, with his flight plan having been modified to avoid Hurricane Irma.
“I will go as a pilgrim of hope and peace, to celebrate our faith in the Lord with you, and also to learn from your charity and your constancy in seeking peace and harmony,” the pope told Colombians in a video message released Monday.
The theme of the trip is “Let’s take the first step,” bringing to mind the key moment Colombia is facing as it implements a peace agreement with FARC rebels after a 52-year conflict that left more than 260,000 people dead, 60,000 unaccounted for and 7 million displaced.
Francis will start off in Bogota, the Colombian capital, and also visit the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena. He is set to give 12 addresses (including homilies) before his return on Monday.
Last night, as is his custom, he placed the trip in the hands of Our Lady with a visit to St. Mary Major.
Francis will be the third pope to visit the Latin American nation, following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI in 1968 and Pope John Paul II in 1986. This is his 20th apostolic trip outside Italy.
On the papal plane, Francis said the trip is special, as it aims to help Colombians move forward on the path of peace.
He also spoke of flying over Venezuela, asking for prayers for that country to be able to engage in dialogue and find stability.
The pope will arrive at 4:30 local time (EST).
Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said this week that while the trip does have great political ramifications, it is above all a trip to proclaim the Gospel.
Before leaving the Vatican this morning, the Pope greeted two families who had to leave their homes in flames during summer fires in an area of Rome. They had received support from the Vatican.