President Mahinda Rajapaksa called on the Most Reverend Cardinal Dr. Malcolm Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Saturday (May 10), the President’s office said in a statement. The Cardinal returned to the country following a visit to the Vatican earlier this month leading a delegation of bishops of 11 dioceses to participate in the quinquennial ad Limina Apostolorum.
Pope Francis addressing the bishops of Sri Lanka encouraged the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka in its effort towards national reconciliation, saying that even though the nearly 26-year old war ended in 2009, much needs to be done towards reconciliation, respect for human rights and true peace.
Meanwhile a senior official of the Church said that the Pope would arrive on January 13 as it had been finalised by the Sri Lankan Bishops who visited Vatican recently.“His Holiness Pope Francis has already promised that he wants to come to Sri Lanka next year,” said Mgr Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar to Asia News.
The prelate, who was in Rome on 2-3 May for an ad limina visit with 13 other Sri Lankan bishops, said that the apostolic journey “is scheduled for 13-15 January 2015.” “With His Holiness, we discussed what worries us about our country, about religion and conditions of life,” he explained.
Pope Francis spoke about a possible visit to Sri Lanka at the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last year, on his way back to Italy, when he said, “I will have to go to Asia”.
Speaking about the apostolic visit, Mgr Joseph told AsiaNews that “it is more than a hope” because “we discussed it with our Bishops’ Conference and with Pope Francis.
“He is scheduled to arrive on 13 January. In the afternoon, he will meet with the country’s leaders. The next day, he will celebrate high mass with Sri Lanka Catholics.” In the afternoon, “he could visit the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, in our diocese of Mannar,” the bishop said.
Madhu is one of the most famous Marian shrine in Sri Lanka. Every year on 15 August, almost 600,000 people from all over the country make a pilgrimage.
“We are not yet sure whether he will visit Madhu, but if he does hundreds of thousands of people would be there to welcome him,” the bishop said.
According to the Italian Insider newspaper, “the trip is already planned,” and the priests in Sri Lanka believe the Pope’s presence in their country will favour reconciliation and genuine social peace on the island.
The only wish expressed by the bishops is that the trip coincide with the canonization ceremony of Joseph Vaz (1651-1711), an Indian priest, apostle of Ceylon beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
The figure of Vaz is venerated throughout the entire island, uniting two principal ethnic groups, Senegalese and Tamil. Between 1983 and 2009 civil war among these two groups caused more than 70,000 deaths. Currently, the situation is still unstable, but there is hope that the pope’s visit could help restore peace.