ROME – As the old saying goes, time and the tides stop for no one. Neither, as it turns out, does a hurricane, as the rise of the massive category 5 Hurricane Irma forced Pope Francis to alter his projected flight path from Rome to Bogotá at the start of a six-day visit to Colombia.

Prior to the departure of the plane carrying the pope, his entourage, and members of the press, the Vatican announced that it would follow a more southerly route to Colombia, steering clear of the hurricane presently menacing the Caribbean islands.

According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, as Irma gathered strength on Tuesday, it became the strongest storm on record ever to hit the Atlantic basin.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for portions of the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. Irma will target the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico Wednesday into early Thursday, and parts of Hispañola, the Bahamas, and Cuba are also in the path of Irma late this week.

At some point along the way in Colombia, Pope Francis is expected to address the devastation and suffering the storm is almost certain to impose on the Caribbean and other territories in its path. It could also hit parts of the southern United States, especially Florida, depending on which way it turns over the weekend.

History’s first pontiff from Latin America is well-known for his efforts to reach out and console suffering people, and he was at it again Wednesday morning in Rome before departing for the city’s Fiumicino airport for his flight to Colombia.

According to a note released by the Vatican, Pope Francis on Wednesday morning received two Roman families at his Vatican residence in the Domus Santa Marta, composed of five people in all, who were forced to abandon their home in Rome’s Ponte Mammolo neighborhood following a series of summer fires in the area.

The families are presently being cared for by the Elemosineria Pontificia, the pope’s charitable arm for the people of Rome and its environs led by Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.

Pope Francis’s six-day trip to Colombia will take him to the cities of Villavicencio, Medellin and Cartagena in addition to the national capital of Bogotá. While in the country, Francis is expected to promote peace efforts to end a five-decade civil conflict and urge national reconciliation, although that aim may be complicated by the fact that Colombians remain badly divided about a government peace deal worked out with the country’s main rebel factions.

Crux will be providing regular coverage throughout the trip.