.- The Holy See Press Office confirmed today that Pope Francis will be traveling to Sri Lanka Jan. 12-15 and to Philippines Jan. 15-19.
The papal trip – which will be the second to Asia in six months – had been informally announced by the Pope Francis in May, during the press conference he held aboard a plane returning from the Holy Land.
“As far as Asia is concerned, two trips are planned: this one to South Korea for the meeting with Asian young people, and then, next January, a two-day visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, in the areas struck by the typhoon,” said the Pope.
The itinerary of the voyage will be disclosed in the coming months, but Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila and Msgr. Nevin Pereira, coordinator of Sri Lankan immigrants in Italy, have speculated on possible papal stops.
The pontiff is expected to visit Manila and the areas devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda, also known as Hayan. The typhoon struck the Philippines Nov. 8 and caused the death of around 6,000 people.
Cardinal Tagle has also announced that the theme of the papal visit will be “Mercy and Compassion.” The cardinal has asked the Catholics of the countries to do “corporal works of mercy” to honor the papal visit.
Pope Francis’ visit will also mark the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Manila World Youth Day, the largest ever papal event, which gathered around 5 million young people to pray with St. John Paul II.
Msgr. Pereira revealed to CNA June 11 that Pope Francis will be welcomed by the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and will have lunch with all the politicians from both major parties of the country.
According to Msgr. Pereira, the Pope will visit the Institute for Theological Studies in Asia and the Basilica of Our Lady of Sri Lanka, where a meeting is planned with all the religious, priests and nuns of the Island.
Msgr. Pereira also voiced hope that Pope Francis will celebrate the canonization of Bl. Joseph Vaz, an Indian missionary who traveled to Sri Lanka during the Dutch occupation.
Both of the countries Pope Francis will be visiting have endured internal conflicts.
Sri Lankan civil war began July 23, 1983, and ended in May 2009. The war – due to ethnic tensions between the Buddhist Sinhalese majority and the Hindu Tamil minority – caused the death of estimated 80,000 to 100,000 citizens.
Meeting the Sri Lankan workers in Italy Feb. 8 for the celebration of the 68th anniversary of the independence of the country, Pope Francis urged them to “heal the wounds and collaborate with the enemy of yesterday to build the tomorrow together.”
The Pope conceded that “it is not easy,” but said “it is the only path that gives hope of future, development and peace.”
In the Philippines, there have been times of tensions between Christian and Muslim Filipinos, especially the Muslim Moro people native to Mindanao.
Pope Francis proved very attentive to this by elevating to the role of cardinal in the recent Feb. 22 consistory Orlando Beltran Quevedo, O.M.I, archbishop of Cotabato.
The cardinal has advocated for peace between Christians and Muslims in the country and wrote an influential paper in 2003, in which he investigated the causes of the Moro Muslims insurgency and called for the overcoming of prejudices and biases, asking Christian and Muslim leader to play a major role.