(SOURCE) Pope Francis on Tuesday began a highly anticipated six-day visit to Asia that will also take him to the Philippines. Here are some glimpses of his trip as it unfolds:
QUICKQUOTE: ‘A TURNING POINT IN THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY’
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the country’s main Muslim political party, spoke in a statement about how Pope Francis’ visit could affect its efforts to end anti-Muslim bigotry, particularly after last week’s upset in the country’s presidential elections.
“We hope that His Holiness’ presence, advice and example will help make this critical opportunity in our democratic history a turning point in the struggle for equality, justice and freedom. We also hope that it will renew our society’s commitment to compassion, peace and virtue.”
Some in the crowds may have grumbled that Pope Francis’ convoy had passed too quickly or that he hadn’t stopped to greet them, but the pope took a long time to drive the 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Colombo’s airport into the city.
Even with traffic blocked, the lengthy airport arrival ceremony, combined with his frequent stops in the heat to greet and bless people in the crowds lining the convoy’s route, had the pope running more than an hour behind schedule.
By midday, the pope had to cancel a meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops. He’s expected to reschedule it.
It was, in some ways, a Francis-like choice: to spend more time with ordinary people and less with the pillars of church power, though the cancellation might have also been a nod to a 78-year-old pope, just off a long flight, needing to rest up after a hot spin into town.
“He is a down-to-earth pope,” said Felicitas Ivy Dissanayake, an 80-year-old woman who was waiting for the pope’s arrival. Francis was to be the third pope she had seen in Sri Lanka.
He “is on a mission to bring peace to the world. And we are thrilled to have him,” she said.
VOICES FROM THE CROWD
The thousands who lined the pope’s convoy route had various reasons for joining in the excitement, some focused on hopes of ending religious divisions and reconciling the country after a quarter-century civil war that ended in 2009.
Here’s what some had to say:
“This is a good opportunity to unify the country after a war and bring together a society divided with an election. It will give strength to the new government at a time we are free from an autocracy and on a new path.” — Saman Priyankara, 42.
“I came to see a world religious leader, though I am a Buddhist. I believe inter-religious harmony will be strengthened.” — Yasas Alexander, 40.
“This is like Jesus Christ himself coming to Sri Lanka. … His simple lifestyle is not fake. It is a challenge to us and the Church hierarchy. I think his vision comes from Christ himself.” — Ranjit Solis, 60.
— By Krishan Francis, AP writer, Colombo, Sri Lanka