BOGOTA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday gave a red carpet welcome at Bogota’s Catam military airport to Pope Francis at the start of his five-day pastoral visit to the South American country.
The pope descended the Alitalia jet’s stairway and greeted Santos and his wife, Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, with warm handshakes, chatting briefly, and also greeted Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia Ettore Balestrero and Colombian Archbishop Ruben Salazar.
The pontiff, Santos and the first lady then moved to the red carpet, chatting in a lively manner, while the National Symphony Orchestra played a portion of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria.”
Francis was presented with a dove of peace by Emmanuel, the boy born in captivity to Clara Rojas, a politician who spent almost six years as a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
The pope also greeted with a big smile several children, as well as the ministerial cabinet, including Colombian Vice President Oscar Naranjo.
After the greetings as per protocol, two folklore groups performed typical Colombian dances, including the popular “My name is Cumbia,” with Santos explaining the presentation to the pontiff, who listened attentively.
The pope broke with protocol, however, to embrace several disabled people, including soldiers and police officers wounded in the line of duty, one of whom presented him with a small gift, along with children with Down Syndrome.
The pontiff then received a bunch of roses from a little girl and blessed several objects and vials of water presented to him by people whom he embraced, including several elderly citizens.
Once the welcoming ceremony was concluded, Francisco boarded the popemobile for the 15-kilometer (nine-mile) trip to the apostolic nunciature, where he will spend the night.
During the trip, the pope smilingly greeted the crowds lining the route, waving to the police officers and the other members of the security services who were stationed along the way.
The white popemobile, preceded by dozens of police on motorcycles, moved at a very leisurely pace past thousands of people who greeted Francis with shouts, cheers, applause, waving flags of several countries and white handkerchiefs, the most enthusiastic of them running for a few steps behind the caravan.
Francis never sat down during the journey, given that the popemobile is designed for the pontiff to stand while moving slowly through a crowd or along a travel route, and Salazar and Balestrero accompanied him in the roofless vehicle.
In general, the crowd estimated at at least 900,000 – while enthusiastic and happy – was also quite well-behaved, with no incidents or accidents being reported along the entire route.