Pope Francis departed this morning at 9 for his three-day apostolic visit to Turkey. He is expected to land at 1:00 p.m. (local time) in Esemboğa International Airport, Ankara.

As customary, Pope Francis sent telegrams to the heads of state of the countries the papal plane will pass over during the flight.

Addressing Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Pope Francis explained that the purpose of his visit was “to promote the encounter and dialogue among diverse cultures, to strengthen the path of unity of Christians and to share moments of prayer with brothers and sisters in the faith.”

“I wish to address to you, Mr. President and the Italian nation my warm greetings, which I accompany with fervent hopes for the spiritual, civil and social progress of beloved Italy,” the Pope wrote.

The Pope also wrote to President Bujar Nishani, president of the Republic of Albania. “I am pleased to convey warm greetings to you and the citizens of Albania as I journey over your country on my way to Turkey,” he wrote. Recalling with satisfaction my recent visit to Albania, I invoke the Lord’s blessings of peace and prosperity upon the entire nation.”

Finally, Pope Francis sent a message to Greek President Karolos Papoulias, conveying his greetings to the people of Greece. “As I journey over Greece on my Apostolic Visit to Turkey, I ask the Lord to bless the nation abundantly with peace and prosperity,” the message read.