Vatican Releases Details on Upcoming Papal Trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

Apostolic Visit will Mark Pope Francis’ Second Trip to Asian Continent

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The Vatican released details on Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines next week. The trip, which will take place from January 12-19, will be the Holy Father’s second trip to Asia, following his Apostolic Visit to South Korea in August 2014.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, noted the significance of the Pope’s visit as well as highlighting previous visits by his predecessors. Blessed Paul VI visited both Sri Lanka and the Philippines in 1970. St. John Paul II visited both countries in 1981, and in 1995, during World Youth Day.

Thus, Fr. Lombardi said, «both are countries with a tradition of papal visits in the past.» The director of the Holy See Press Office also said that another purpose of the Pope’s visit is to provide comfort to survivors and families of the victims of super typhoon Haiyan.

Accompanying the Pope on his trip will be Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State; Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and Cardinal Robert Sarah, who although was recently named as Prefect of the Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, will be there in his role as President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

Sri Lanka

Pope Francis will depart on the evening of January 12th from Rome’s Fiumicino airport and is expected to arrive in Colombo International Airport the following morning. The Pope will make his way to the Apostolic Nunciature on his Popemobile, greeting those along the way. The Holy Father will then head to the Archbishop’s residence where he will meet with Sri Lankan Bishops.

Fr. Lombardi also highlighted that the Pope will give a special gift to the bishops: an exact replica of a centuries-old document which authorized the evangelization of Sri Lanka sent to Pope Leo XIII.

In the afternoon,  Pope Francis will visit privately with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential palace. He will then meet with interreligious leaders in the country. Buddhism is the majority religion with over 70% of the population, followed by Hinduism (12-13%) and Islam (10%). Christianity is the minority religion with 7% of the population. Fr. Lombardi said that a local Buddhist monk will also address the Pope during the meeting.

The following day, Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization Mass of  Blessed Joseph Vaz, who will become the first Sri Lankan saint. Blessed Vaz was canonized 20 years ago by St. John Paul II during his visit to Colombo in 1995.

The Holy Father will then travel up north to Madhu by helicopter to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary. The shrine is located in the center of the conflict zone during the country’s bloody civil war which lasted for 30 years.

“The Pope’s visit is an invitation to peace, to dialogue,” Fr. Lombardi said regarding the Pope’s visit. “The Catholic Church has a special role in promoting dialogue and reconciliation between both sides of the past of the conflict. The visit to the shrine is a specific act, in the heart of the war zone, to pray for peace and promote reconciliation within the country.”

Visit to the Philippines

On Thursday morning, January 15th, the Holy Father will visit the chapel of Our Lady of Lanka before heading to the airport for his Apostolic visit to the Philippines.

“It is the only country in Asia where the majority are Catholic,” Fr. Lombardi noted. “For this reason, the Popes have always visited [the country].” The Jesuit spokesman also stated that the Catholic Church in the Philippines is preparing for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the country.

After the 6 hour flight, the Pope will land at Villamor Air Base in Manila and is not expected to deliver any addresses. The following morning he will be present at the welcoming ceremony in the Presidential Palace where he will meet with President Benigno Aquino III as well as addressing local authorities and the diplomatic corps.

The Holy Father will then head to the Cathedral of  the Immaculate Conception in Manila where he will celebrate Mass with the bishops, priests and religious men and women of the country.

However, Fr. Lombardi noted that Saturday, January 17th, will be the most anticipated day which will be dedicated to those affected by super typhoon Haiyan, one of the deadliest cyclone to strike the country in modern recorded history.

Pope Francis will make his way to Tacloban, the epicenter of the storm and will celebrate Mass near the airport. Fr. Lombardi stated that an estimated 500,000 people are expected to the 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 meeting, the Vatican spokesman said, will give the Pope the opportunity to meet with those who “were touched directly by these disasters.”

The Holy Father will conclude the day visiting and blessing a recently built center 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 aided those affected by the natural disasters.

On Sunday, 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 over 4 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 “evangelizers to the Asian world.”

The following day, the Holy Father will depart Manila and is expected to arrive in the late afternoon at Rome’s Ciampino airport.

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Junno Arocho Esteves

Newark, New Jersey, USA Bachelor of Science degree in Diplomacy and International Relations.

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