Pope Francis set off for Colombia, on Wednesday, to plead for a “stable and lasting” peace in a divided country just emerging from a 50-year war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
His visit comes two days after Colombia’s government and the country’s last active guerrilla group, the ELN, announced a ceasefire, a key step toward sealing a “complete peace” to end Latin America’s longest civil war.
“Peace is what Colombia has sought for a long time, and she is working to achieve it: a stable and lasting peace, so that we see and treat each other as brothers and not as enemies,” the pope said in a video message on Monday.
“Peace reminds us that we are all children of the same Father, who loves and consoles us,” he said ahead of the five-day tour, which will see him meet both those persecuted and their tormentors.
The pope, clutching his black travelling briefcase, turned and waved as he boarded the plane in Rome.
The Vatican said it had been forced to make changes to Francis’s flight plan to avoid a run-in with monster Hurricane Irma, which is barrelling its way across the Caribbean.
Colombians narrowly rejected the peace deal in a referendum last year.
The pontiff had tried unsuccessfully to mediate between President Juan Manuel Santos and the lead opponent of the accord, conservative leader Alvaro Uribe.
Vatican experts said Francis would be walking a diplomatic tightrope on the trip between calls for justice and mercy.
Pope Francis, who will be making his 20th foreign trip as pope and fifth to his native Latin America, will touch down late afternoon Wednesday in Bogota, where he will be serenaded by traditional musicians.
There he will meet with Santos and leaders of the Catholic Church in Venezuela who have been attempting to help mediate in their country’s crisis.
Based at the Vatican mission in the capital city, he will make daily excursions by plane to the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena.