Papal visit on despite snap polls, says Sri Lanka

Pope Francis and YouthPope Francis will visit Sri Lanka as planned in January, officials said yesterday despite signs of concern from the Vatican that the government intends to exploit the trip for political gain as it readies for snap elections.

“Pope Francis has graciously accepted the president’s invitation, and the Vatican has confirmed that His Holiness will be visiting Sri Lanka in January 2015,” the office of President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a statement.

It did not mention the snap presidential elections, which a government minister last month said will be held in early January, just before the pontiff’s visit during January 13-15.

The official Vatican Network said last week there were concerns about the papal visit going ahead given the proximity of the elections.  “The Church asks the vote to be postponed at least to the end of January 2015, to avoid any kind of (political) exploitation,” the news outlet reported.

But the statement from Rajapakss’s office said that authorities were going ahead with arrangements for the papal visit.

Roman Catholics account for around six percent of the population in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, an the Christian minority’s block vote could be decisive in the event of a close election. (AFP)

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