A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

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ISIS, 21st century youth and the 2015 synod on family – Commentary

 Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila, NJ Viehland Viehland Photos

 

“Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees….”

 

Commentary: ISIS needs ‘Assisian‘ responses, not sniping crusades

By: Hector Welgampola

Amid ongoing Islam-bashing worldwide, comes a bit of good news from the Arab world. According to media reports, in April Qatar will name the recipients of that country’s WISE (World Innovative Summit for Education) Awards for 2015. Given by Qatar’s Education City, these awards have been described by BBC as an effort to recycle oil and gas into knowledge.

“The Emir of Qatar believes that a new golden age can be achieved through education and research coupled with creativity and development,” wrote James Martin, founder of Oxford University’s 21st Century School. The Qatar project would seed “a new Arab renaissance bringing multicultural tolerance, new ideas and education action across the Arab world,” he claimed. Others pin hopes on the project’s Faculty of Islamic Studies, despite lingering suspicion that Qatar funds reach jihadists.

While saluting the project, BBC noted how “events of the Arab Spring have shown the dissatisfaction of a young population with rising unemployment and lack of opportunity.” The Arab world’s youth frustrations have been aggravated by the post 9/11 frenzy to militarily intervene there with a fantasy to impose Western-style panacea for local problems.

Just as lack of social justice incubated communism, prolonged abuse of Arab countries as mere oil wells festered social ills that reignited Islamic militancy. A belated sense of guilt for such abuse led some developed countries to support the Qatar project. A similar sense of guilt should help affirm the inadequacy of military responses to curb frustration-fed jihadism.

Hired armies lack motivation to wipe out guerilla cults or jihadist passion. And eliminating Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi or Osama Bin Laden did not make the world any safer. If al Qaeda was a geographically diffused ad hoc network, its modern avatars like ISIS and Boko Haram showcase bin Laden’s dream caliphate still thriving and on martyrdom. The apocalyptic cult goes beyond self-immolation to the ruthless slaughter of those considered to be infidels. It now threatens West Asia, North Africa and beyond.

If Islamism’s extremist outreach has gone viral, it has also gone global. It attracts youths from two sources. Unsurprisingly, it volunteers youths from Islamic nations. Addressing a recent Christian-Islamic dialogue meet run by Nigerian bishops, an Islamic scholar attributed the rise of Boko Haram partly to “the impunity, bad governance and corruption of Nigerian elite.” Qatar-type projects may help replace such self-serving elite with socially committed cadres.

ISIS also draws youths worldwide. Its media-hyped fantasy appeals to listless young men and young women wearied by the depravity of secularized post-christian society. Maybe, an erratic society’s death-peddling obsession with abortion and mercy killing has so desensitized the young even to fancy jihad as an option. Frequent news reports confirm how the jihadist mirage attracts spiritually starved youths from all continents. But, sadly, such youths’ home countries fail to get the message. Their rulers try to prevent the outflow of youths with laws to muzzle social media, patrol borders or deny passports – all inept measures.

Instead, leaders of state, society and religion should heed the unspoken outcry of desperate youths fleeing parents, siblings, peers, churches and country to embrace jihad. The thousands of young men and women opting for jihad are our own sons and daughters. Their drift to ISIS speaks of our generation’s moral failure. Their spiritual thirst is an indictment of our ineptitude to offer them a meaningful goal of holistic life. So, let’s stop stigmatizing them as misled youths or blessing counter crusades. Today’s society needs to find solutions by re-examining our distorted faith-life, fractured family-life, consumerist lifestyles and counter values based on worship of money-culture.

As evident in the recent Germanwings plane crash too, all youths blamed for atrocities are not jihadists. The crisis of today’s youths should alert society to our long abuse of social structures as a mask for power play. Churches and Nations need to return to a moral ethic and restore honesty in public life. The need to wipe out the scandal of duplicity in religio-ethical and socio-economic life was never more urgent. And Church youth apostolates and family apostolates should be so re-oriented as to attract, involve and inspire all levels of youth life and activity.

Meanwhile, initiatives like the March 24 Catholic-Muslim summit in Rome can offer further hope. Interestingly, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, Vatican head for interreligious relations, told the meet of his wish to set up a more permanent mechanism for such interaction. For a moment, it brought to mind the environment of interreligious amity facilitated decades ago by the BIRA (Bishops Institutes for Interreligious Affairs) meets and live-ins organized by FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences). Such interfaith action-in-prayer fosters inclusive pluralism. And a response of relational sacramentalty can better facilitate social awakening than statements, episcopal or papal.

That sacramental mission has to awaken the 21st century Church to a Jesus-like embrace of all youths divorced from community by post-christian secular cults. Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees. And instead of premising the synod with a requiem for martyred Christians, let reflection on the waste of life of both jihadists and their victims inspire the synod to seed a Church of Assisian service to the human family.

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Leave or else… – threat letter to nuns in India town

Kolkata (Calcutta), INDIA – A Catholic school in the eastern India state of West Bengal has sought police protection after it received four letters threatening to burn it down, reported mattersindia.com service for news, features and information on India.

Security has been stepped up at St Capitanio Girl’s Higher Secondary School, about 70 kilometers from Jalpaiguri, said Ravindra Nath, a senior police officer. 

Read full report from mattersindia.com

Ancient Bengal was the site of several major kingdomsFrom the 13th century onward, the region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu kings and Baro-Bhuyan landlords until the beginning of British rule in the 18th century. 

West Bengal is India’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants, including roughly 515,150 Christians, based on the 2001 census report.

Mother Teresa worked in Kolkata (Calcutta).

end

Pope Francis in Asia – Asians look forward to Pope Francis’ visit, healing

Papal Visit 2015 Letran NJ Viehland Photos

Children playing street ball said they will watch Pope Francis ride around nearby Manila Cathedral on Jan. 16

 

MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Pope Francis returns to Asia this week, where crises are priming the ground for the kind of church he is working to grow.

“Francis’ dream of a church that is bruised and wounded and muddied is what the church in Asia wishes to be,” said Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato, Philippines, who for years led the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, or FABC, and who was named a cardinal by Pope Francis last year.

Read full report 

Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia, Part 2

“The FABC movement in this new world should go faster, especially in that the bishops and lay people begin to be really and truly Catholics who can dialogue.” – Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ

children watch priests march Ed Gerlock

Manila scavenger children watch priests rally / contributed by Ed Gerlock edgerlock@yahoo.com

continued from Part 1 

Evangelization through “Triple Dialogue”

According to the statement issued by the first plenary assembly, “Evangelization is the carrying out of the Church’s duty of proclaiming by word and witness the Gospel of the Lord.” The assembly resolved to use dialogue as the approach to evangelization in Asia where Christians comprise only two to three percent of the population in most countries.

This thinking has persisted through the decades and infused programs and initiatives that have gained recognition from inside and outside the organization. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, a Salesian who served for many years in India’s troubled northeast region and currently chairs the FABC’s Office of Evangelization, is widely quoted for advocating an approach that involves “whispering the Gospel to the soul of Asia.”

FABC X Menamparampil Capalla

Indian Archbishop Thomas Meamparampil [front leftmost] sits next to retired Filipino Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, Dec. 2012, Vietnam / NJ Viehland Photos

In the same spirit of dialogue, FABC-sponsored Radio Veritas Asia  today broadcasts programs with Gospel and moral values that attract non-Christian listeners. The station’s program director says its Myanmar service’s Burmese-language section listeners are predominantly Buddhists.

Asian Family buddhist hindu catholic NJ Viehland

Asian Conference on the Family 2014, Manila / NJ Viehland Photos

FABC documents have detailed an approach to evangelization through dialogue at three levels: with a people’s culture (inculturation), with a country’s religions (interreligious dialogue), and dialogue with the poor.

Subic,NJ Viehland

Indigenous Aeta youth at Franciscan sisters’-run school in Zambales, Philippines / NJ Viehland Photos

Children share corn Philippines Ed Gerlock

Philippines children share corn / contributed by Ed Gerlock edgerlock@yahoo.com

Fruits and challenges

 The FABC has explored various visions of how to deliver the Gospel to Asia. Apart from its Central Secretariat, it addresses regional concerns in a more focused way largely through its nine offices. Each of them shines the spotlight on a particular concern: evangelization, human development, theological concerns, interreligious dialogue, social communication, education and faith formation, clergy, consecrated life, and laity and family.

 Over the years, the FABC offices have organized activities addressing concerns related to the formation of basic communities, and the situation of youth and women. Last year, it conducted a seminar on climate change and produced FABC Climate Change Declaration.

Legarda BEC prayer by NJ Viehland

BEC members of Legarda urban poor community pray the rosary before meeting to discuss their housing and relocation concerns / NJ Viehland Photos

Marikina, NJ Viehland

Flood in Marikina, NJ Viehland Photos

“The most important fruit of the FABC so far is the gathering of all the bishops of Asia and providing them with a venue where they could share joys and problems,” Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the emeritus archbishop of Manila who worked with the former FABC commission on the missions, said in an Aug. 25 interview before the assembly.

FABC X / NJ Viehland

from left Cardinal Pham Minh Man of Ho Chi Minh, Indian Archbishop Thomas Menamparampiln and Philippines retired Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales who served as Pope Benedict XVI’s papal legate in Vietnam, 2012 / NJ Viehland Photos

FABC offices organize seminars and formation programs of various types and content, including some that are called Bishops’ Institutes. Many involve exposure trips to host countries. Cardinal Rosales quoted fellow bishops from India and Indonesia who expressed appreciation for such trips, especially those whose dioceses cover areas troubled by armed conflict. He also cited problems with clergy in areas where local Churches could use the FABC’s help. “Without the FABC, individual local Churches would find it hard to solve problems that are shared by other Churches,” he said.

 NJ Viehland Photos

Former officials of the Autonomous Region on in Muslim Mindanao under Moro National Liberation Front leaders joined celebrations for the birthday of Cardinal Orlando Quevedo in Cotabato City and his confirmation as cardinal / NJ Viehland Photos

The cardinal also acknowledged the help that the FABC offers in the formation of priests. “Instead of sending seminarians to Rome and other places in Europe, we were able to arrange through our contact in the FABC further studies of Asian priests and training of seminarians in the Philippines and other countries,” he pointed out.

Theologians have praised the scope and depth of theological reflection documented in FABC publications and FABC Papers. The challenge Father Felix Wilfred presented in volume 1 of the book “For All the Peoples of Asia,” remains “implementing the grand vision of the FABC.”

Pabillo, Egidio / NJ Viehland Photos

Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila with lecturer in Islam Abdulhusin Kashi at Sant’ Egidio-organized anti-death penalty dialogue in Mandaluyong City, 2014/ NJ Viehland Photos

Change has already been “very large,” Father Arevalo observed. “I have seen the changes and I am happy with the changes. Now we have many bishops who are very much alive to the problems of the country. Before, it was always in the devotional area only. Not that that is bad. It is very good. But it is not enough anymore in the modern world,” he said.

The renowned theologian acknowledges it is a waste to keep valuable FABC theology in books. “The books have to be read. The books have to be studied. The books have to be lived. The FABC movement in this new world should go faster, especially in that the bishops and lay people begin to be really and truly Catholics who can dialogue.”

END

Flashback: Why Pope Francis’ supposed “revolution” isn’t new for some in Asia

By NJ Viehland

AMOR, NJ Viehland

Religious women postulants offer flowers at Mass at 2013 AMOR meeting in Tagaytay City, Philippines/ NJ Viehland Photos

Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

        

NCR PCNE tagle arevalo by NJ Viehland

Father Catalino Arevalo (right) with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila at the 2013 Philippine Congress on the New Evangelization in Manila / NJ Viehland Photos

 MANILA — “It’s a new world,” Jesuit Father Catalino Arevalo, premier theologian of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), says 40 years after the Catholic association was formally established.

         Retracing the FABC’s journey in an interview at Loyola House of Studies in Quezon City, he marveled at how “the average Catholic person today with all the new media is very different from the ordinary Catholic person when I was a young priest at 40 in 1960.”

         He said he never imagined that people in the mountains of Bukidnon province would see the multi-awarded Grammy winner Lady Gaga on television nor the Philippine popular artists as they performed more than 560 miles northwest in Manila. In his view, this reflects a similar situation in many Asian nations.

         In bringing the Gospel to the peoples of Asia, “we are like Jesus and the first disciples,” said the priest who has advised Asian Church and other leaders. “We have to start anew.”

FABC, Mapping Evangelization in Modern Asia

          More than 50 presidents and delegates of the 19-member bishops’ conferences (were to be) guided by this same spirit of renewal and vision of evangelization when they gathered in Vietnam for the Tenth FABC Plenary Assembly (X FABC Plenary Assembly) Nov. 19-25, 2012 , [1] the latest of such assemblies. They represented local Churches stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to East Timor (Timor Leste) in Southeast Asia. The theme of that year’s assembly was: “FABC at Forty Years – Responding to the Challenges of Asia: The New Evangelization.” 

         The delegates were joined by resource persons as well as observers from the Vatican, other continental bishops’ groups and funding agencies, all accompanying the bishops as they reflected on opportunities and pastoral challenges that society presents the Church in Asia in the 21st century.

         The FABC plenary assembly, held every four years, usually brings together about 100 bishop-delegates with about the same number of resource persons to study a particular theme, pray together and draft a statement at the meeting’s close.

X FABC group picture

Xth FABC Plenary Assembly in Xuan Loc, Vietnam, Dec. 2012 / NJ Viehland Photos

         The working document for the event invited the delegates to discern how the Church can spread the Gospel in societies of Asia impacted by dynamics triggered by globalization, cultural diversity, poverty and many other factors. They will also try to take account of concerns such as: migrants and refugees, indigenous peoples, population, religious freedom, threats to life, social communications, ecology, laity, women, youth, Pentecostalism and vocations.

         The Holy See approved the statutes of the FABC in 1972. This voluntary association of bishops’ conferences in South, Southeast, East and Central Asia was formed “to foster among its members solidarity and co-responsibility for the welfare of Church and society in Asia, and to promote and defend whatever is for the greater good.” 

        Since the start, Father Arevalo has served as a resource person, writing adviser and theological consultant for the FABC. Bishops who pioneered the federation were just settling back in their dioceses after the close of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-1965). They forged their plans for the FABC as local Churches in Asia grappled with questions on how to spread the Gospel in a “new world” being born after the colonial period

        Taking renewal in the Church as the overarching theme of its structure, reflection and activities through the past four decades, the FABC has drafted what Father Arevalo calls a “map for evangelization in Asia.”

Local Church

         “The FABC already made a general map of evangelization in Asia” in the 1970s, Father Arevalo pointed out, and its primary agent has always been the local Church.

          When Asian bishops came to Manila during the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970, they met to discuss setting up a permanent structure by which Asian Church leaders could gather regularly to share their experiences and develop among themselves what local Churches could do to bring the realities of Vatican II to life in Asia. “Local Church” refers to the Church in each country, Father Arevalo explained, and the FABC gatherings were envisioned to “begin with bishops, but not just bishops.”

         Among those who gathered in 1970 were several prelates who would be instrumental in bringing the FABC to life, including Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan of Korea, Cardinal Valerian Gracias of India and Cardinal Justinus Darmojuwono of Indonesia, as well as Archbishop Mariano Gaviola of the Philippines and Bishop Francis Hsu of Hong Kong.

         In 1971, Bishop Hsu convened a meeting in Hong Kong for the presidents of 13 episcopal conferences, a gathering that would become the FABC Central Committee. Today, 19 episcopal conferences in Asia are FABC members : Bangladesh, East Timor, India – CBCI (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India), India – Syro-Malabar, India – Syro-Malankara, India – Latin Rite, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Laos-Cambodia, Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan (ROC), Thailand and Vietnam. The newest member is the bishops’ conference of East Timor, which was launched just this year. Previously, the youngest member was the Bishops’ Conference of Kazakhstan, which officially joined the FABC in 2008.

         The FABC also has associate members in nine Asian places that have no episcopal conference. Three are dioceses: Hong Kong and Macau in China, and Novosibirsk in eastern Russia. Four other associate members are in Central Asia: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The remaining two are Mongolia and Nepal.

         In India, four distinct episcopal conferences belong to the federation. The bishops’ conference of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and that of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church represent the Oriental rite, while the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India represents the Catholic Church of the Latin rite. CBCI, the general body for the whole country, was among the FABC’s founding members.

         The first FABC plenary assembly in 1974 brought hundreds of bishops together in Taipei. The statement and recommendations they issued under the title “Evangelization in Modern Day Asia” spell out the perspective of the Asian context, as well as the FABC vision and approach to evangelization in the region.

         The statement stresses that the local Church immediately and primarily must be the agent, the subject of evangelization, in contemporary Asia. Father Arevalo elaborated that instead of always waiting for instructions from Rome on exactly what to do, “The Vatican Council already said it is time now for each of the local Churches to reflect and define how they see and how they prioritize the work that they must do.” Even so, he added, the FABC has always acknowledged that local Church activity would always work together with Rome.

         “It’s just like a man and a woman who are married now,” he continued. “Must they ask their grandmother or grandfather what they do each day of their lives? No. They get advice and direction from the grandfather or the grandmother, but it’s their responsibility to know what they must do with their own family, following with fidelity what their grandparents taught them also. So that’s the meaning of the local Church’s priority of responsibility.”

Part 2 Triple Dialogue

[Written for a project: 40 Years of FABC, September 12, 2012]

[1] The Xth FABC Plenary Assembly was actually held Dec. 10-16, 2012 to make way for a surprise consistory then Pope Benedict XVI set for Nov. 24 to create new cardinals, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila.

published with permission, FABC Office of Social Communication Executive Secretary

Sri Lanka papal visit itinerary sites readied

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has started preparations both in Colombo and in Madhu, two places Pope Francis will visit on his apostolic journey to Asia next year, his recently released itinerary shows.

Priests blessed Galle Face Green last Friday kicking off work on the stage for the altar where the pope will say Mass on Jan. 14, a senior priest told Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Times.

At this five-hectare ocean-side urban park in the heart of the financial and business district of Colombo “The stage will be constructed by personnel of the Sri Lanka Navy. We have planned out…

Read full report

Pope Francis will depart from Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Monday, Jan. 12 at 7pm and will arrive in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, at 9am Jan. 13. After the welcome ceremony he will meet with the country’s bishops at the archbishop’s residence. He will then pay a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic. The day will conclude with an interreligious meeting at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. That convention center was built in  Colombo city in the 1970s as a gift from the People’s Republic of China in memory of the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) who served from 1956 until he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.

On Jan. 14, Wednesday, Pope Francis will canonize Sri Lanka’s first saint Blessed Joseph Vaz during a Mass to be celebrated at 8.30 am at the Galle Face Green. The pope will travel by helicopter to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu,  Mannar district, northwest Sri Lanka.

The site is considered as the holiest Catholic shrine on the island and is a well known place of devotion for Catholics belonging to the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. The church with a 400-year history has been a symbol of unity not just between Tamils and Sinhalese groups who fought in a civil war for more than 25 years until 2009. It has also brought together people of various religions, including Buddhists, Hindus and Protestants. From Madu, Pope Francis will return to Colombo by helicopter.

On the last day of his pilgrimage, Thursday, Jan. 15, the pope will visit the chapel of Our Lady of Lanka in Bolawalana before he departs Sri Lanka by plane, at 9am, for Manila.

Read Pope Francis’ complete itinerary in Sri Lanka