Pope’s visit in the balance: Cardinal writes to PresidentView(s):
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, has sought President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s early advice whether the visit of Pope Francis should go ahead or be cancelled in the light of the upcoming presidential election. The three-day visit is scheduled to begin on January 13 next year.
The request has gone in the form of a letter sent to President Rajapaksa this week. The Cardinal told the Sunday Times, “I wrote a confidential letter. I cannot tell you anything more. I am awaiting a response.”
The Cardinal, who is also the President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Sri Lanka, had earlier advised UPFA leaders that it was a convention that the Pope did not visit a country where elections were due. That was within a period of one month. Similarly, after an election, he would not visit that country for a month after.
UPFA party leaders have now been notified that the presidential election would be held in early January next year. The likely date talked of is either January 8 or 9 – less than a week prior to the scheduled papal visit. Both the UPFA and opposition parties are now gearing their campaigns for the election.
The enormity of the logistical arrangements in view of a presidential election and a visit by the Pope, the Sunday Times learnt, prompted the Cardinal to write to President Rajapaksa this week. Ahead of the letter, he had also discussed the issue during a meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Also notified of the position is Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, who is a member of the Catholic Church’s Finance Committee handling the visit. The Chief Justice was also a member of President Rajapaksa’s entourage which flew to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis early this month where the President also briefed the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The Sunday Times learns that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith will hold a news conference, possibly next week, to make the position clear. “This will take place whether or not a response from the Presidential Secretariat is received,” a source said. A Vatican advance party which was earlier scheduled to visit Sri Lanka mid-November to check the arrangments has advanced the visit to November 2.