INTER-religious reconciliation and recovery from natural disaster will be major themes of Pope Francis’ January 13-18 visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, the Vatican spokesman said.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi briefed reporters on the trip yesterday (January 7), noting that it would be the Pope’s second time in Asia, following an August visit to South Korea.
Pope Francis wanted to give the region special attention, the spokesman said, because no Asian country had received a papal visit in more than a decade, since the pontificate of St John Paul II.
Catholic News Service reported that Pope Francis would be the third pope to visit Sri Lanka, where Blessed Paul VI travelled in 1970 and St John Paul visited in 1995. Like his predecessors, Pope Francis would stress the importance of inter-religious harmony in a country that is less than seven per cent Christian.
An inter-religious meeting in Colombo on January 13 will feature speeches by the Pope and a Buddhist monk representing the faith of almost 70 per cent of the country’s citizens.
On January 14, following a Mass in Colombo at which he will canonise the 17th- and 18th-century missionary Blessed Joseph Vaz, Pope Francis will travel by helicopter to Madhu, in the country’s north.
He will pray the Rosary at a Marian shrine there that provided sanctuary to thousands of refugees during a three-decade-long civil war, which ended in 2009 after killing an estimated 100,000 people.
Catholics had had a special role in post-war reconciliation, Fr Lombardi said, because they straddled the ethno-religious divide between the Sinhalese-Buddhist majority and the Tamil-Hindu minority.
Zenit reported that Fr Lombardi said the Catholic Church in the Philippines was preparing for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the evangelisation of the country.
In Manila, Pope Francis will attend a welcoming ceremony in the Presidential Palace where he will meet with President Benigno Aquino III and address local authorities and the diplomatic corps.
He will then celebrate Mass with the bishops, priests and religious men and women of the country at Manila’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Fr Lombardi said Saturday, January 17, would be the most anticipated day which would be dedicated to those affected by super typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest cyclones to strike the country in modern recorded history.
Pope Francis will make his way to Tacloban, the epicentre of the storm and will celebrate Mass near the airport.
Fr Lombardi said an estimated 500,000 people were expected to attend the Mass. After the Mass, the Pope will have lunch with 30 survivors of the typhoon and the 2013 earthquake which struck the Philippines one month before.
The Pope will end the day visiting and blessing a recently built centre for the poor that was funded by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Church’s charitable arm, as well as meeting with local bishops, priests and religious who helped those affected by the natural disasters.
Pope Francis will meet with religious leaders in the country at the University of Saint Thomas in Manila before meeting with an estimated 30,000 youth and their families. He will then celebrate what Fr Lombardi jokingly described as “a mega-Mass”, making reference to the Mass celebrated by St John Paul II in Manila which brought a crowd of more than four million people.
Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of the Santo Niño (the Child Jesus), which the Filipino people have a special devotion to and will include a procession. The highlight of the Mass will be the “sending in mission” of the Church in the Philippines as “evangelisers to the Asian world”.
CNS and Zenit