Pope Francis was scheduled to leave on Monday evening for the 7th Apostolic Trip of his Pontificate. The first stop of his two-nation journey is Sri Lanka.
Welcoming him will be the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, and the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena.
Sirisena was elected on January 8th, beating incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who held office for nearly 10 years.
“Strange enough, all three Popes who came to Sri Lanka – Pope Paul, Pope John Paul, and Pope Francis – the government that invited is not the government to receive him,” commented Cardinal Ranjith.
The newly elected President has promised to works towards reconciliation on the island, where a decades long civil war ended in 2009. The predominantly-Buddhist Sinhalese make up about 75% of the population, with predominantly-Hindu Tamils being the largest minority group. Catholics make up just 6% of the population, and are comprised of both Sinhalese and Tamils.
“I think [Pope Francis’] coming at this time with a new government – the new government has promised to work for reconciliation among the people – and I think his coming right at the beginning of that government, is a good indication that he will be able to give a push to that decision of the new government to work towards a reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils after the 30-year civil war,” Cardinal Ranjith told Vatican Radio.
The Cardinal also noted the Pope wants to keep things simple, and to have contact with the poor and sick of Sri Lanka.
“We are happy he is taking that attitude,” said Cardinal Ranjith, “because it is I think an example to all of us, especially to us bishops, and Cardinals!”(Vatican Radio)