05/09/2014, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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For Mannar bishop, Pope Francis will be in Sri Lanka in January 2015

Bishop Rayappu Joseph told AsiaNews that the pope's apostolic visit to the island formerly known as Ceylon "is more than a hope." He will probably travel to the north of the island, the area hardest hit by the country's 30-year civil war. After Sri Lanka, the pontiff could go to the Philippines.

Mannar (AsiaNews) - "His Holiness Pope Francis has already promised that he wants to come to Sri Lanka next year," said Mgr Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar.

The prelate, who was in Rome on 2-3 May for an ad limina visit with 13 other Sri Lankan bishops, said that the apostolic journey "is scheduled for 13-15 January 2015."

"With His Holiness, we discussed what worries us about our country, about religion and conditions of life," he explained.

Pope Francis spoke about a possible visit to Sri Lanka at the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro last year, on his way back to Italy, when he said, "I will have to go to Asia".

Speaking about the apostolic visit, Mgr Joseph told AsiaNews that "it is more than a hope" because "we discussed it with our Bishops' Conference and with Pope Francis.

"He is scheduled to arrive on 13 January. In the afternoon, he will meet with the country's leaders. The next day, he will celebrate high mass with Sri Lanka Catholics." In the afternoon, "he could visit the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, in our diocese of Mannar," the bishop said.

"Here in the north, many communities have suffered a lot because of the war, and His Holiness is very concerned about those who lived and still live in situations of conflict."

Madhu is one of the most famous Marian shrine in Sri Lanka. Every year on 15 August, almost 600,000 people from all over the country make a pilgrimage.

"We are not yet sure whether he will visit Madhu, but if he does hundreds of thousands of people would be there to welcome him," the bishop said.

As for the rest of the papal schedule, the prelate only said that on "15 January he might already be on his way to other countries. Perhaps the Philippines." (GM)

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