Sept. 6 (UPI) — Pope Francis departed the Vatican Wednesday for a five-day international peace-making trip to Colombia.
The pope noted in a telegram to Italian President Sergio Mattarella that he planned to “support the mission of the local church and to bear a message of hope” on the Latin American visit.
The pontiff said the trip is meant to help put Colombia on a path for peace, especially after 50 years of war between guerrilla and government forces. His visit comes at near the one-year mark of a peace deal to end the fighting.
Although many criticize the deal as being too soft on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group, Pope Francis is expected to advocate for the peace agreement.
Organizers have planned for the trip to serve as a “first step” in the path ahead for lasting Colombian peace.
The trip will take the pope to Bogota and other cities in Colombia. On Friday, he will visit the Columbia-Venezuela border city of Villavicencio, where he will be involved in a prayer for national reconciliation.
Large Venezuelan crowds are expected to gather for his arrival.
“We will say a prayer for Venezuela … that it can [have] dialogue, a dialogue among all for the stability of the country,” said the Pope to the National Catholic Reporter.
The pope was expected to land in Bogota mid-afternoon Wednesday, although the flight had to be adjusted due to Hurricane Irma.