Joyous welcome awaits Holy Father


by Norman  Palihawadane and Rex Clementine

Sri Lankan Catholics will turn up in their numbers on the Negombo – Colombo main road today to give a grand welcome to their spiritual leader – Pope Francis. The 78-year-old Argentinian Pope will arrive today at 9:00am at the Katunayake International Airport. After a welcome ceremony, Pope Francis will travel along the Negombo – Colombo Road. The Church has urged Catholics to line up along the road to greet the Pope and has demarcated sections on the main road for various Parishes.  

The Pope’s schedule for today includes a meeting with the Bishops of Sri Lanka around 1:15 pm before a visit to President Maithripala Sirisena at 5:00pm. The Pope is scheduled to participate in an inter-religious dialogue at 6:15pm at the BMICH.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Sri Lanka at the end of the last conclave in 2013 which chose Pope Francis as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. Following that up, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally invited the leader of over 1.1 billion Catholics during his visit to Vatican last year.

Rev. Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando, Director, National Catholic Centre for Social Communications speaking to The Island said the new government has given the Church full support. "The Government has been very helpful and the work is going ahead smoothly," Fr. Gamini said.

The main events during Pope’s visit will be on Wednesday when Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka will be made a saint. Blessed Joseph Vaz, a missionary priest from Goa, India will be the first Saint from Sri Lanka. On the same day Pope Francis will fly to Mannar District where he will conduct a prayer service at the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, considered the holiest Shrine in Sri Lanka. On Thursday at 9:00 am Pope Francis will leave from Katunayake Airport to Manila, Philippines to begin another official tour.

Pope Francis has stunned the world with his simplicity, modesty and poverty reminding the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to live a simple life.

Pope Francis is first Jesuit to lead the Catholic Church and the first from Americas. Jesuits, also known as Society of Jesus are one of the largest religious orders in the Catholic Church. Their specialty is education in schools and universities. The Jesuits are highly intellectual and serve the poor. Before the takeover of schools they managed many schools and among them are St. Aloysius in Galle and St. Servatius in Matara. Currently they manage St. Michael’s in Batticaloa.  

Pope Francis became the Provincial Superior of Jesuits in Argentina at the relatively young age of 37. Breaking traditions, Pope John Paul II made Pope Francis the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1988. Three years later he was created a Cardinal.

Pope Francis participated in the 2005 conclave that was convened at the death of Pope John Paul II and reportedly was runner-up to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.

After the 2013 conclave picked him, he chose Francis as his Papal name after Saint Francis of Assisi, who is known for his deep concern for the poor and the marginalized. No other Pope had chosen the name Francis.

Upon being elected Pope, he chose to live in a guesthouse rather than the Papal Apartment or the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.

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