Pope Francis flew to Panama on Wednesday to start a six-day trip, during which he will preside over the World Youth Day, a Catholic youth festival.
Francis’ plane took off from Rome’s Fiumicino airport shortly before 10.00 a.m. (0900 GMT) and was scheduled to land at Panama’s Tocumen airport at 4.30 p.m. (2130 GMT).
“I am leaving for the World Youth Day in Panama.
“I ask you to pray for this very beautiful and important event on the path of the Church.
“Before leaving his Vatican residence, Francis had a meeting with eight refugees hosted by a Catholic centre in Rome,’’ the Vatican said.
The Panama trip came as the Catholic Church is facing an unprecedented crisis over its historic failure to punish priests, who abuse children.
From February 21 to February 24, Francis is due to host a summit with Head Bishops of National Catholic Church organisations from around the world to discuss the child abuse crisis.