The priest-director of lay apostolate in Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has written to the country’s bishops about the much- politicized papal visit.
To think that an appeal to the political parties not to use the Pope’s image for propaganda purposes will be heeded is naive, wrote the director, Fr. Leo Perera.
Following is the full text of Fr. Perera’s letter to bishops proposing the Church officials recommend to the nuncio and to the Vatican to postpone Pope Francis’ visit that has been scheduled for Jan. 13-15, 2015:
Since the Catholic Bishops’ Conference will be meeting at the beginning of December I would like to express some thoughts regarding the proposed visit of His Holiness Pope Francis from the 13th to the 15th of January, for your consideration.
I personally think that the Conference should strongly recommend to the Nuncio and to the Vatican that with the recent turn of events, the proposed visit of the Holy Father should be postponed. Opinions have been expressed in the social media that if the Pope is to visit the Philippines for the Eucharistic Congress in 2016, the visit to Sri Lanka could be combined with that. The canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz can very well be carried out on a different date and even in a different place.
Perhaps the understanding that His Holiness does not visit a country too close to an important national election can be cited as a valid reason for the postponement. This also is justified as the President has gone back on his assurances that the two events would not be too close to each other.
We know from experience that the period before and immediately after elections have been accompanied by violence. With the elections being held on the 8th the final results will be on the 9th evening or 10th morning. This is the time when most violence takes place according to the reports of the election monitoring organisations. In such a situation the security forces will be very involved in trying to keep the peace. Although His Holiness may not be concerned for his personal safety, his presence in a situation of turmoil and political strife, will invariably sully the image of the Papacy. If violence does occur, it can also lead to extremists terming Catholics as being anti-national if our concerns are diverted to the Papal visit.
It is being naïve to think that an appeal to the political parties not to use the Pope’s image for propaganda purposes will be heeded. Naturally posters will come up (as they already have) and each side will deny responsibility.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka faces a dilemma because already many preparatory committees are in place and a lot of money has been spent, both by the state and by the Church. However in the present situation financial concerns cannot be given priority. While on the one hand there might be a loss of face or prestige, on the other hand, pressing ahead with the visit at this time will have more disastrous consequences for the Catholics in Sri Lanka with the impression being created that once more the Church is favouring the President.
I present these suggestions in good faith and in the hope that it will assist you in discerning the proper decision to be made.
May God bless you.
Fr. Leo Perera