Pope to visit and bless Tamils on Sri Lanka visit

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In his trip to Sri Lanka, that will take place between the 13th and the 15th of January 2015, before proceeding to the Philippines, Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu and will thus be the first Pope in history to set foot in a territory where most inhabitants are Tamil. 

Francis chooses to touch on the sore point of the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil people that devastated the island for 26 years (1983-2009) and has left deep wounds. While we await the publication of the official programme of the trip, the confirmation of Francis’ pilgrimage to Madhu – that appears to be the culmination of the whole visit to ex-Ceylon due to its symbolic value – came from Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo and the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the island.

The cardinal, who is a leader for Sinhalese Catholics, decided to visit Madhu, the oldest Shrine on the island, to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption last 15th of August. On that occasion, he stood next to Rayppu Joseph, the bishop of the dioceses of Mannar who had asked the Holy See that the Pope visit Tamil territories, on behalf of numerous priests and lay representatives of the Tamil Catholic community. From the pulpit of the Shrine, Ranjith made the Papal visit,  that was greatly awaited by the pilgrims gathered there, official. Francis, said the cardinal, will celebrate Mass in the Shrine on the 14th of January, where he will meet and bless the many Tamil families who were victims of the war.

Pope to visit and bless Tamils on Sri Lanka visitMadhu Church, in a Tamil region of Sri Lanka, where it has been announced that the pope will celebrate Mass. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis’ visit to Madhu presented some logistical problems: Madhu is 260km north of Colombo, and the briefness of his visit rendered the journey there rather difficult. On the other hand, Tamil people make up 12% of the Sri-Lankan population and, since they are gathered almost exclusively in four of the 11 dioceses of the country, they could not be ignored by a trip that intends to have the theme of reconciliation as its cornerstone.

The Shrine of Madhu, founded by the Dutch, goes back more than 400 years and has become the symbol for national reconciliation. The Shrine was preserved from armed conflicts as a “free zone” and has become a place where the Tamils and the Sinhalese, Christians as well as believers of other religions, met side by side without hostilities. It is the destination of incessant pilgrimages and thus it is the place that is best suited to send a message of social, political and religious harmony. 

Paolo Affatato for Vatican Insider/La Stampa
Source: ucanews.com (Aug.26th)