MANILA, Philippines – Before his 5-day visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis will be in Sri Lanka from January 13 to 15, 2015.
At a Glance: Sri Lanka
The South Asian island country is home to 1.26 million Roman Catholics (as of 2012), which is 6% of its population, and some 291,000 other Christians. Other minority religions are Hinduism (at 12.6%) and Islam (at 9.7%).
Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, comprising 70% of its population.
Pope Francis is expected to bring a message of ethnic and religious harmony, as the country continues to endure ethnic conflict following the end of nearly 4 decades of civil war that pitted separatist Tamils against the Sinhalese.
During his 3-day visit, the Pope will visit the Shrine of our Lady of Madhu, a church that sheltered refugees from across the religious and ethnic divide during the civil war, and which has a 450-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary.
The centerpiece of the visit will be a public mass at the Galle Face Green on the sea front in the capital, Colombo. The event is expected to attract 1 million Catholics and followers of other religions.
His Holiness will also lead the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz (or Giuseppe Baz), who will become Sri Lanka’s first saint. A 17th-century missionary who revived Catholicism at a time of great persecution, Vaz is known as the “Apostle of Sri Lanka.”
Pope Francis is the third pope to visit Sri Lanka, after Pope Paul VI from December 4 to 5, 1970, and now St. John Paul II from January 20 to 21, 1995, as part of their trips in the Asia Pacific region.
Pope Francis’ 2015 visit comes on the heels of the January 8 snap presidential election, where ex-health minister Maithripala Sirisena defeated President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Catholicism in Sri Lanka
The Roman Catholic religion in Sri Lanka started to propagate in 1505, when the Portuguese arrived in the country. But there was evidence of small groups of Christians settling in the island as early as the 5th century.
From the middle of the 1600s to the late 1700s, Dutch invaders prohibited Catholicism in favor of their Protestant faith. In 1796, upon the occupation of British forces, religious freedoms were restored.
Currently, Sri Lanka has one Catholic archdiocese, the Archdiocese of Colombo headed by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, and 11 dioceses.
The apostolic nuncio of the Holy See (Vatican City) to Sri Lanka is Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Tot, who was appointed to perform diplomatic duties in March 2014. – Rappler.com