CARDINAL PAROLIN, SECRETARY OF STATE, ON PAPAL TRIP TO SRI LANKA – COLORFUL CEREMONY WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS TO SRI LANKA – TALES OF TRAVELS ON THE PAPAL PLANE

CARDINAL PAROLIN, SECRETARY OF STATE, ON PAPAL TRIP TO SRI LANKA

Ahead of this week’s papal visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio and CTV (Vatican television) that, if there is any place where the role of a bridge is most apt, it is in Sri Lanka, and it is the Church in the ‎country.  ‎After visiting the island nation, January ‎‎13-15, the Holy Father will fly to the Philippines from where he will return to the Vatican, January 19.

The Sinhalese, who are mostly Budddhist, make up over 74% of Sri Lanka’s ‎over 21 million population; whereas the Tamils, who are largely Hindu, form some 13 percent at just over 1.5 million.  Sri Lanka was wracked by a 26-year ‎civil war between Tamil rebels and the predominantly Sinhalese government that ended in May 2009 ‎with the defeat of the Tamils.

Cardinal Parolin explained that the Catholic Church with members on both sides of the ‎nation’s ethnic divide has the duty of bringing about national dialogue, reconciliation and collaboration.  He ‎observed that the island nation has a tradition of inter-religious harmony, but regretted that some ‎extremist groups manipulate public opinion and create tension.  He said he hoped that the nation’s authorities ‎will be able to maintain the tradition of religious coexistence, and that Pope Francis’ visit will ‎help the nation to look forward rather than reopen old wounds. (source: Vatican Radio)

COLORFUL CEREMONY WELCOMES POPE FRANCIS TO SRI LANKA

With all the local color, sights and sounds that the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo could muster – and then some! – Pope Francis was greeted by crowds of well-wishers, most wearing native dress, by children’s choirs and 40 brilliantly dressed elephants at the airport and en route to Colombo, a 20-mile trip that took over an hour with the usual stops by Pope Francis to greet people. That delay caused the Pope to re-schedule a visit with the bishops of Sri Lanka that was on the agenda for this morning.

In his remarks in English upon arrival, Pope Francis, thanked the organizers of his visit and all Sir Lankans, noting that, “Sri Lanka is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean for its natural beauty. Even more importantly, this island is known for the warmth of its people and the rich diversity of their cultural and religious traditions.”

He said, “My visit to Sri Lanka is primarily pastoral. As the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, I have come to meet, encourage and pray with the Catholic people of this island. A highlight of this visit will be the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, whose example of Christian charity and respect for all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion, continues to inspire and teach us today.”

A decades-old civil war in Sri Lanka ended with a wary truce in 2009. The Pope made reference to this and other civil strife and wars throughout the world, saying, “It is a continuing tragedy in our world that so many communities are at war with themselves. The inability to reconcile differences and disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to ethnic and religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years. It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices, hostility and mistrust left by the conflict. It can only be done by overcoming evil with good and by cultivating those virtues that foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace. The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.”

Francis also said he was “convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding that is taking place in this country. For that process to succeed, all members of society must work together; all must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities, and learn to live as one family.”

The Holy Father said “the great work of rebuilding” must promote “human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society.”

TALES OF TRAVELS ON THE PAPAL PLANE

Stories from journalists aboard the papal plane to Sri Lanka and the Philippines:

1. EWTN’s Alan Holdren of CNA/EWTN news is on twitter.com/alanholdren

2 .A Filipino journalist tells his story – also video of Pope’s arrival: https://ph.news.yahoo.com/what-s-it-s-like-to-be-on-the-papal-plane–filipino-journalist-tells-his-story-122731086.html

3. BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt writes about travelling with the Pope: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-30794391

Flying on the Vatican plane with the Pope is a slightly surreal experience. For a start, many of the journalists travelling with Pope Francis, the VAMPs – Vatican Media Accredited Personnel – are just that.

Well-dressed, elegant, and displaying a distinctly Italian sense of style – the female correspondents are in high heels, and even the cameramen are in smart suits and shiny shoes. This is not your average press pack.

It’s a comfortable flight from Rome to Colombo on an Alitalia A330, decked out in tasteful muted grey. The only touches of colour on the plane are the papal coat of arms on every single headrest. I am told they sometimes disappear as souvenirs. I make a mental note to self: do not steal from the Vatican or Alitalia.

JOURNALIST NUMBER 69

We are travelling to Sri Lanka for the first day of the Pope’s six-day tour of Asia, which starts in Colombo and will end on Sunday in Manila with a Mass for five million people.

On the way to the plane, each journalist is handed a thick press pack, with a preview of speeches under strict embargo. I am journalist number 69, a number I shall now have to wear around my neck for the rest of this week-long trip.

It’s dark by 18:00 as the journalists walk up the stairs at the back of the plane, chatting, gossiping and exchanging thoughts about the trip ahead as they file into economy. The Pope enters at the front of the plane and – one assumes – turns left.

There’s a smooth take-off. Then, as the flight gets underway, the curtains at the front of our section open.

Suddenly, almost every journalist on board is holding a camera aloft, from the crews with their large video cameras, to a host of iPhones glowing like fireflies, their cameras held up in wobbly-vision to gather personal souvenirs and even selfies of this encounter.

LIKE WATCHING ROYALTY

Just as suddenly, the Pope is in front of us in person, his image mirrored row by row on a dozen screens held up on either side of the aisles. He is in his Papal robes, immaculately ironed, and exuding that unmistakeable aura of power that is conferred on those at the very top of their organisations.

His press spokesman Father Federico Lombardi gives a brief summary of where we are heading, and hands the microphone to Pope Francis. He is taller than I expect, and gives a megawatt smile as he starts to walk down the aisle to say “Hello” to as many journalists and crews as he can.

It is like watching royalty or a rock star in action. He spends just long enough to make everyone he speaks to feel special. With those he knows well, he sometimes exchanges a joke and roars with laughter, before moving on.

He works his way down the plane row by row, shaking hands with some, blessing the rosaries proffered by others, having his hand kissed by some of the more devout journalists, or nodding as he is asked for a prayer by others, chatting happily with those he knows by sight.

PAPAL HANDSHAKES

The Vatican camera crews walk backwards as he advances; they too wear smart suits, and have neat haircuts and pressed shirts. Father Lombardi walks behind the Pope.

Then suddenly, Pope Francis is in front of me, looking at me, and I introduce myself in faltering Italian. His hand is warm, and he offers a firm grip.

He is a commanding presence, and utterly unfazed by being filmed by so many cameras surrounding him. It must be something you get used to as pontiff.

What does he expect from this trip, I ask him. He bends down closer to offer an ear as he tries to decipher my appalling accent, and gives a big smile – “We’ll see,” he says, raising an eyebrow, and then “onwards!” He gives my arm a warm pat as he goes on to the next row, never hurrying, but spending just long enough to make as many people on the plane feel they have had their time close-up with the Pope.

VATICAN BUBBLE

On this trip, the VAMPs number 76, and range from those who have covered nothing but the papacy for several decades, to others who cover the Vatican as well as all other Italian stories.

I am the newest VAMP, and having seen a papal visit from the outside once, in Istanbul in December, I am keen to see what it’s like travelling within the Vatican bubble.

This is an institution that has endured for thousands of years, and it shows.

The media operation is practised, professional and well-prepared.

The booklet that the Vatican has produced for us in several languages outlining the trip has the papal movements planned down to the minute. It doesn’t allow for much delay en route, though there are clearly plans already laid anticipating how to deal with delays or any security threats.

BLESSINGS

As I read through my Vatican press pack, it is striking the degree to which the Pope is not only the leader of an ancient global Church but also a practiced flying diplomat, his connections unparalleled by many secular heads of state, apart from perhaps the Queen.

He is at the head of an organisation with representatives in almost every country, and in return, the diplomats of most countries at the Holy See.

Rome is the place they can all meet, overtly or covertly, while Vatican diplomacy has in recent weeks helped thaw the long deep-frozen relationship between the US and Cuba.

And as we fly overhead, the Pope’s blessings, prayers and warm wishes are telegrammed to the heads of state of each country as we pass above, from Albania to Greece, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and India, the time we pass over each logged on a map in an embossed folder that each journalist receives.

Every head of state we pass over is offered prayers and blessings, as the leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics flies through the night skies above.

 

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