Sri Lanka-Philippine Recap: Pope Francis Accomplishes His Mission


Pope Francis celebrates Mass Jan. 16 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass Jan. 16 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Manila. (photo: Alan Holdren/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — When Pope Francis left Manila shortly after 10am Monday, after a weeklong pastoral visit to Asia, the feeling among senior Church officials was that he helped build bridges of understanding in post-war Sri Lanka and challenged Filipinos to confront contemporary problems.

The prayers, blessings and paternal guidance of Pope Francis “will help us to try and find a true reconciliation of the heart, the strength to ask for forgiveness and to forgive and forget the sad past, all to build bridges of understanding between the parties injured in the bitter conflict,” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo and president of the bishops’ conference of Sri Lanka, on Jan. 14.

Cardinal Luis Tagle, archbishop of Manila, told reporters Jan. 18 that everyone in the Philippines was “overwhelmed” with “thanksgiving and gratitude to God” for the trip and were “challenged” by Pope Francis to face the country’s problems, among them economic inequality.

Key highlights of the Pope’s seventh apostolic visit outside Italy included a call for “missionary zeal” at the canonization of Sri Lanka’s first saint, St. Joseph Vaz, an appeal to invoke Our Lady’s help to aid reconciliation during a visit to the country’s most popular Marian shrine, located in a region subject to a brutal civil war, and a call for members of this very religious and multifaith country to work together for peace.

In Manila, some of the most memorable moments were a meeting with street children, a papal Mass in the capital that attracted a record 6-7 million faithful and a warning from the Holy Father to beware of an “ideological colonization” that aims to destroy the family, which criticized efforts to export the West’s abortion-contraception culture by wrapping it in a cloak of financial assistance to developing nations like the Philippines.


‘Abide in Love’

The eight-day apostolic voyage began in Sri Lanka under the theme “Abide in Love.” Addressing newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena and assembled dignitaries at the Colombo airport Jan. 12, Francis outlined a path to reconciliation that included “overcoming evil with good,” pursuing truth to help promote “justice, healing and unity” and “working together” for human dignity with the “full inclusion of each member of society.”

At an interreligious meeting later that day, in a country torn by fundamentalism and ethnic tensions, the Pope reiterated the need for “interreligious and ecumenical cooperation,” but one “grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions.” For the sake of peace, Francis stressed, “religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war.”

The following day, at the canonization of St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century Oratorian missionary from Goa, India, who helped save the Sri Lankan Church from being destroyed by Dutch colonists, Francis held up three qualities of the newly canonized saint.

First, he was an “exemplary priest,” he said, who teaches “how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved.” Second, he “shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace.” And, third, he offers an example of “missionary zeal,” able to “offer the truth and beauty of the Gospel in a multireligious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility.”

Pope Francis was then flown to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, located in the north of the country, where a 30-year civil war was waged between ethnic Tamils and Sinhalese that ended in 2009. 

In his address at the popular shrine, visited by people of other faiths as well as Catholics, he thanked the Blessed Mother for “continuing to bring us Jesus” in the wake of “so much hatred, violence and destruction.” She alone “has the power to heal open wounds and to restore peace to broken hearts,” he said, adding that only when we understand, “in the light of the cross, the evil we are capable of … can we experience true remorse and true repentance.”


Benedict XVI Cultural Institute

After praying for peace at the Our Lady of Lanka chapel the following morning and visiting the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute in Colombo, the Pope departed for Manila. On the papal plane, the Pope drew the attention of the world’s press when he addressed the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris provoked by blasphemous cartoons in the irreligious French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

“You cannot provoke,” the Holy Father said. “You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith.” If you do, he added, you “can expect a punch.” 

Every religion “has dignity; every religion that respects human life and the human person, and I cannot make fun of it. And this is a limit,” he said.

On freedom of religion, he said: “Everyone has the right to practice his religion, his own religion without offending, freely. And that’s what we do, what we all want to do.”

Addressing diplomats in Manila Jan. 16 on his first morning in the country, the Pope called on political leaders to promote “honesty, integrity and commitment to the common good” and stressed that reforming social structures “that perpetuate poverty” first requires “conversion of mind and heart.” Filipino political leaders have been the subject of a number of corruption scandals in recent years.

The well-being of the family figured highly during the Pope’s Philippines visit, whose theme was “Mercy and Compassion.” Noting how “difficult” it is for democracies to uphold the inviolable dignity of each person, beginning with the unborn and extending to the elderly and infirm, the Pope said families and communities “must be encouraged and assisted in their efforts to transmit” values to the young that honor “goodness, truthfulness, fidelity and solidarity.”


Path of ‘Constant Conversion’

In a homily at Mass with bishops, priests and religious at Manila Cathedral later that morning, the Pope called on those present to reject “worldly perspectives,” examine consciences, “acknowledge our failings and sins,” and so embrace the path of “ongoing conversion.” Deviating from his prepared remarks, he also said the poor “are at the center of the Gospel” and that, without them, the Gospel’s “entire meaning” is lost, “and the message of Jesus Christ is void.” 

But it was his meeting with families later that afternoon that drew wider attention. Again speaking off the cuff, the Pope said to beware of, and say “No” to, a “new ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family,” which “comes from outside.”

In one of his strongest remarks in defense of the Church’s opposition to same-sex unions, he also warned of attempts to redefine marriage and upheld Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae on the Church’s opposition to artificial contraception.

President Benigno Aquino has not had harmonious relations with the Church. In 2012, he signed into law a bill providing free access to contraception. During the Pope’s visit and in his presence, Aquino strongly criticized Church leaders for not speaking out against corruption and for being critical of his administration.


‘Emblematic of the Whole Visit’

While in Manila, the Pope had an unscheduled meeting with street children. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it was “emblematic of the whole visit” and a particular highlight for Pope Francis, who “would meet all the street children in Manila” if he could.

The following day was dedicated to those hit by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Visiting Tacloban, which was devastated by the storm, the Holy Father spoke from the heart during Mass, reassuring those who had lost a great deal that Jesus “never lets you down. Know that the tenderness of Mary never lets you down.” 

Christ on the cross, he added, “understands us because he endured everything.” Speaking to the clergy of the region later, he commended to God’s mercy all those who had died, thanked the Lord for priests, religious and laity who made sacrifices to help those in need and appealed that the many poor in the region be treated fairly and have their dignity respected. Due to bad weather, his visit was cut short.

At the Mass in Tacloban, Kristel Padasas, a young volunteer with Catholic Relief Services, died when scaffolding holding a loudspeaker fell on her head. The Pope consoled the woman’s father and cousin the following day at the apostolic nunciature in Manila.

In an address to young people on the final day of his visit, the Pope urged them to maintain their integrity, show concern for the environment in a country “seriously affected by climate change” and to care for the poor.


‘Insidious Attacks’ on the Family

In his homily at an open-air Mass in Manila later that day, at which an estimated 6-7 million faithful attended or turned out to see him, Pope Francis called for the protection of the family and young people in the face of the devil’s lies and “insidious attacks” on the family. 

“The devil is the father of lies,” the Holy Father said. “Often, he hides his snares behind the appearance of sophistication, the allure of being “modern,” “like everyone else.” 

But Santo Niño (the Child Jesus), an especially treasured feast of the Filipino faithful that fell on that day, also reminds us that the Christ Child “is the protector of this great country,” the Pope continued. ”He reminds us of the importance of protecting our families and those larger families, which are the Church, God’s family, and the world, our human family.” 

Thanking the Pope at the end of Mass, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Filipino bishops’ conference, said the Holy Father’s visit had been a “sunrise of smiles” for the country’s people.

“You have brought us joy. You have brought us hope. You brought us warmth. You have brought us Jesus,” he said. “When you give us the blessings tonight, we promise you, ‘We will be your lights; we will be the lights of Jesus for Asia and the world.’ We will light the world with the mercy and compassion of Jesus. We will light the world with the joy of the Gospel.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Pope Francis attends the awarding of the Ratzinger Prize at the Vatican on Dec. 6.

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As pilgrims make their way to Rome for Advent and the Christmas season, important Vatican news continues, including the crisis of the German Synodal Path, the Synod on Synodality and the on-going trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu. This week on Register Radio, we are joined by the Register’s Rome correspondent, Edward Pentin, with the latest on these stories and more.