COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Pope Francis on Tuesday, January 13, cancelled a planned meeting with Sri Lankan bishops, with one security official saying he was “exhausted” after a long journey from the airport exposed to the hot sun.
The 78-year-old, who arrived in Colombo Tuesday on an Asia tour that will also take him to the Philippines, took over an hour to travel into the city from the airport on roads thronged with well-wishers.
The pope travelled in an open-top car with no protection from the strong sun and after a long overnight flight from Rome.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said only that the meeting with the bishops had been cancelled due to the pope’s late arrival from the airport.
But a source working on security arrangements who asked not to be named told Agence France-Presse that the pontiff looked “exhausted” after his journey.
Pope Francis has shunned the pomp of his predecessors, and said earlier this year he prefers not to use the bulletproof “popemobile” favored by previous pontiffs.
Journalists travelling with him said he appeared on good form during the flight.
On Wednesday, the pope will hold a public mass on the seafront that is expected to attract around one million people during which he will canonize Sri Lanka’s first saint, a 17th century missionary.
He will also visit a small church in the jungle that was on the front line of the ethnic conflict, which killed around 100,000 people.
The Our Lady of Madhu church in the mainly Tamil north provided sanctuary during the fighting, and is now a pilgrimage destination for Christians from across the ethnic divide.
The pope’s trip comes just five months after he visited South Korea, signaling the huge importance the Vatican places on Asia and its potential for more followers.
The region holds a special interest for Pope Francis, who as a young priest considered becoming a missionary in Japan. (READ: Pope of the fringes: Francis as pilgrim-diplomat)
On Thursday, he will fly on to the Philippines, where anticipation has been building for months. Roughly 80% of the former Spanish colony’s 100 million people are Catholics, which has helped to offset waning influence in Europe and the United States. – Rappler.com