What an amazing trip this has been so far! Pope Francis in Sri Lanka, has brought together more diverse people, cultures, religions, and languages than you can imagine in just one spot and they are there to see, watch and listen!  I stress ‘listen’.  Apparently all – the Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus  – are open to what the Holy Father has been saying, that is, that rebuilding the nation must be more than building devastated structures. It must include rebuilding devastated hearts and minds and souls. It must put human dignity and the value of the person above all else. Rebuilding must include mutual respect, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice.

The colorful nature of this trip has not been lost on anyone – the gorgeous native dress that one would almost be tempted to call (from a different cultural viewpoint) a costume, the stunning ceremonial attire of the elephants who welcomed the Pope, the local pomp and circumstance – soi much more!

I think that by now, 48 hours into the papal trip, I would have taken 1,000 photos and who knows how many videos!


Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano resigned today, well ahead of the end of his second seven-year term, citing age and health reasons, although he has previously said he would not finish the mandate ending in 2020. He has been president since 2006 and is the only Italian president in the history of the republic to have been elected twice, Napolitano and the Holy Father met on June 8, 2013 when the president paid his first official state visit of his second mandate to the Pope.

From Sri Lanka, the Pope sent a telegram to now former President Napolitano, teling him, “I am spiritually close to you and wish to express to you my sentiments of sincere esteem and keen appreciation for your generous and exemplary service to the Italian nation, performed with authority, loyalty and tireless dedication to the common good. Your enlightened and wise action has contributed to strengthening within the population the ideals of solidarity, unity and harmony, especially in a European and national context marked by considerable difficulties. I invoke divine assistance for you, your wife and your loved ones, with the assurance of your constant remembrance in my prayers.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi now has the task of finding a successor. The Italian news agency ANSA notes that, “with elections in Greece due later this month and the European Central Bank under growing pressure to take unprecedented steps to fight the risk of deflation, Napolitano’s departure adds to an increasingly uncertain climate in the euro zone. Italy is struggling to emerge from years of recession and the government faces a series of hurdles to its economic and constitutional reform agenda.”


This morning in Galle Face Green, an urban park in the heart of the financial district of Colombo that can hold up to half a million people, Pope Francis canonized Blessed Joseph Vaz, who was beatified 20 years ago by St. John Paul in the same spot.  The park was filled to capacity Wednesday as Sri Lankans and Indians – for St. Joseph was born in India – celebrated the new saint.

Pope Francis toured the area – 5 hectares or 12.5 acres in size, extending to the coast of the Indian Ocean – in the Popemobile, as well as on foot before going to the sacristy where he was greeted by the mayor of Colombo who presented him with the keys to the city.(Reuters photo on


Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz was born in Goa, India in 1651, the son of Cristovao Vaz and Maria de Miranda, devout Catholics. His father belonged to a prominent Goud Saraswat Brahmin Naik family from Sancoale, and Joseph was baptized on the eighth day at the parish church of St. John the Baptist. He studied Portuguese and Latin, and entered the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Since Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka, was under the rule of Dutch Calvinists and therefore had no Catholic priests, he moved there secretly, in the guise of a mendicant. He eventually came to the attention of the Dutch authorities, who imprisoned him. He was released in 1869 and obtained permission to preach the Gospel throughout the Buddhist Kingdom of Kandy. He also continued to do so secretly in the area under Dutch occupation until his death in 1711.

The Pope explained that Joseph Vaz, “like countless other missionaries in the history of the Church … responded to the Risen Lord’s command to make disciples of every nation. By his words, but more importantly, by the example of his life, he led the people of this country to the faith which gives us ‘an inheritance among all God’s holy ones’.”

Stating that the new saint “continues to be an example and a teacher for many reasons,” Francis focused on three points: “First, he was an exemplary priest. … He was also an example of patient suffering in the cause of the Gospel, of obedience to our superiors, of loving care for the Church of God. … Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. (photo by ANSA)


Secondly, said the Pope, “the new saint shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace. His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbor; he ministered to those in need, whoever and wherever they were. His example continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka today.

“She gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works. All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.”

Finally, said Francis, “Saint Joseph gives us an example of missionary zeal. Though he came to Ceylon to minister to the Catholic community, in his evangelical charity he reached out to everyone. Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility.”

At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis gave Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, a reproduction in engraved copper of the “Sannas,” the document by which King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandyin 1694 authorized Fr. Juan Sylveira of the Order of St. Philip Neri and his companions to preach the Gospel and build churches in his kingdom, and the people to convert to Christianity should they wish to do so. The original decree was given to Pope Leo XIII by the then-archbishop of Colombo, Christopher Bonjero O.M.I.

The faithful of Sri Lanka reciprocated by donating $70,000 to Pope Francis for papal charity. (Source: VIS)


This morning, the Holy Father travelled by helicopter from Colombo to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the north of Sri Lanka, an area inhabited predominantly by the Tamil peoplethat has a four-century-old history. In 1544 a number of Christians escaped from the massacres ordered by the King of Jaffna, who feared the expansion of Portuguese influence. They sought refuge in the jungle and built a rudimentary place for prayer with the statue that is now located inside the shrine. In 1583 more Christians, again fleeing from Mannar, began to build churches in nearby areas. The church in Mantai subsequently became the first “home” of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu.

Following the persecution of Catholics by the Dutch, who arrived in Ceylon in 1656, thirty Catholic families seeking refuge journeyed from village to village, taking the statue with them. In 1670 they settled in Maruthamadhu, where the shrine is now located. They were later joined by other Catholics of Portuguese origin, who built the first small church dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu.

The Virgin of Madhu, protectress against snakebites, became well-known throughout the island and, with the arrival of St. Joseph Vaz in 1897, Catholicism began to flourish and Madhu was transformed into a missionary centre. The construction of the current building began in 1872, and the papal legate crowned the statue in 1924 on behalf of Pope Pius XI. The church was consecrated in 1944. (from Sri Lankan papal visit website)

MADHU shrine

Madhu is a place of prayer that is well-respected and frequented by Catholic faithful and followers of other religions although, during the civil war, it was affected by fighting between Tamil rebels and government forces. The bishops of Sri Lanka managed to ensure that the shrine became a demilitarized zone in order to guarantee the safety of pilgrims and the many refugees who fled there in search of safety during the war. Indeed, since 1990 the 160 hectares (almost 400 acres) of land around the shrine have provided a safe haven to thousands of displaced persons, becoming a refugee camp recognised by both parties in the conflict. In April 2008 the shrine returned to the diocese of Mannar and reopened as a place of worship in December 2010.

More than half a million people awaited the Pope at this Marian sanctuary, praying with him for the consolidation of the peace reached in 2009 following a conflict that had lasted over three decades. Both Tamil and Sinhalese families, who suffered greatly as a result of the hostilities, were present.

“We are in our Mother’s house,” Francis began. “Here she welcomes us into her home. At this shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, every pilgrim can feel at home, for here Mary brings us into the presence of her Son Jesus. Here Sri Lankans, Tamil and Sinhalese alike, come as members of one family. To Mary they commend their joys and sorrows, their hopes and needs. Here, in her home, they feel safe. They know that God is very near; they feel his love; they know the tender mercy of God.

He noted that, “there are families here today that suffered greatly in the long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka. Many people, from north and south alike, were killed in the terrible violence and bloodshed of those years. No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place, or the sad day when the venerable statue of Mary, dating to the arrival of the earliest Christians in Sri Lanka, was taken away from her shrine.

The Holy Father stated that, “Mary never forgot her children on this resplendent island. Just as she never left the side of her Son on the Cross, so she never left the side of her suffering Sri Lankan children. Today we want to thank Our Lady for that presence. In the wake of so much hatred, violence and destruction, we want to thank her for continuing to bring us Jesus, who alone has the power to heal open wounds and to restore peace to broken hearts. …We ask also for the grace to make reparation for our sins and for all the evil which this land has known.”

“It is not easy to do this,” Francis acknowledged. “Yet only when we come to understand, in the light of the Cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance. Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness.”

“Let us ask Mother Mary,” he concluded, “to accompany with her prayers the efforts of Sri Lankans from both Tamil and Sinhalese communities to rebuild the unity which was lost. Just as her statue came back to her shrine of Madhu after the war, so we pray that all her Sri Lankan sons and daughters may now come home to God in a renewed spirit of reconciliation and fellowship.” (Source: VIS)


Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio, in brief remarks Wednesday to a Vatican Radio colleague in Sri Lanka, said the first day of the papal visit was a very positive surprise for him as he had not expected such a wonderful reception for the Pope. He said the atmosphere with the new president, following the recent peaceful elections in Sri Lanka, is “very positive with expectations of something new in the sense of reconciliation” and the rights of minorities. The Pope, he continued, brings encouragement and inspiration, so that the president is right when he says the visit is also a blessing for him at the very beginning of his mission.

Fr. Lombardi also commented on the inter-religious encounter on Tuesday with a large presence of Buddhist monks who did not attend a similar meeting during the visit of John Paul II to the island twenty years ago. He noted that there were more than a thousand religious leaders at the meeting with Pope Francis and he said this had a real impact in a society like Sri Lanka where “people are attentive to the religious dimension”. The Pope comes as a Christian leader, in harmony with the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders on the island and this “is something historic for the people here.”




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)


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.”


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

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

2 .A Filipino journalist tells his story – also video of Pope’s arrival:–filipino-journalist-tells-his-story-122731086.html

3. BBC religious affairs correspondent Caroline Wyatt writes about travelling with the Pope:

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



In case you bought a lottery ticket at the Vatican Post Office for today’s drawing, the Events Office of the Governorate of Vatican City State, the sponsor of the lottery for papal charities, confirmed in an email that the winning numbers of the 12 main prizes and the 30 “consolation” prizes of the lottery will be announced on the website either later tonight or tomorrow morning ( and/or


Thursday morning in the Santa Marta chapel Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the victims of the attack on the Paris offices of the satirical weekly, Charlie Hebso, where 12 people were the victims of the terrorist attack. The Pope said, “the attack makes us think of great cruelty, human cruelty; of such terrorism, both isolated terrorism and state terrorism. The cruelty of which man is capable! Let us pray, in this Mass, for the victims of this cruelty. So many of them! And let us also pray for those who perform these cruel acts, so that the Lord might transform their hearts.”

Wednesday, the day of the attack, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin sent a telegram on behalf of Pope Francis to Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris:

“Upon learning of the terrible attack in Paris on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, which has claimed numerous victims, His Holiness Pope Francis joins in prayer with the suffering of the bereaved families and the sadness of all the French people. He entrusts the victims to God, full of mercy, and prays that He will welcome them in His light. He expresses his deepest sympathy for the injured and their families, and asks that the Lord console and comfort them in their ordeal. The Holy Father reiterates his condemnation of the violence that generates such suffering, and praying that God grant the gift of peace, he invokes a divine blessing for the afflicted families and the French people.”

Later that day, a statement from Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office said the Pope deplored the attack on the offices and staff, and that it “profoundly disturb[s] all peace-loving persons far beyond the confines of Paris,” and that such violence is never justifiable. The statement calls on all people everywhere to oppose the spreading of hatred and every form of violence.

Fr. Lombardi’s statement said, “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justifiable. The life and dignity of all are to be guaranteed and protected with decision. Every incitement to hatred should be refuted. Respect must be cultivated.” It expressed Pope Francis’ spiritual closeness, solidarity and support for all those who work for peace, justice and right, and for those who seek “to [bring] deep healing to the springs and causes of hate, in this painful and dramatic moment in France, and in every part of the world marked by tensions and violence.”


Father Federico Lombardi, Holy See Press Office director, briefed journalists on Wednesday on Pope Francis’ second trip to Asia. The Pontiff will travel from Jabuary 12 to 19, visiting Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Christopher Wells reported for Vatican Radio:

Father Lombardi pointed out that this will be Pope Francis’ second trip to Asia, following his journey last summer to Korea. The decision to return again to the continent, Lombardi said, highlights the Holy Father’s attention to this “great continent.” He also noted that, as Benedict XVI was not able to make a trip to Asia, it was important to “recover a sense of the papal presence” in the continent that numbers a great part of the human population.

Pope Francis’ seventh Apostolic journey has a fairly precise schedule, with two full days in Sri Lanka, and three full days in the Philippines, with a travel day in between.

Father Lombardi also spoke about previous visits of Popes to the two countries. Blessed Pope Paul VI during a long trip to the region, visited both the Philippines and Sri Lanka in 1970. In a similarly extensive trip in 1995, Pope Saint John Paul II visited both countries; he had previously visited the Philippines in a trip to southeast Asia in 1981. These trips, Lombardi said, have been of “great importance” for relations between the Popes and the continent of Asia.

In preparation for the Pope’s upcoming voyage, Fr Lombardi said it is helpful to look at the logos for the visits to each country. The logo for the trip to Sri Lanka includes a characteristically “oriental” cross, with the figure of Blessed Joseph Vas, who will be canonized by Pope Francis in Colombo. The design is completed with the miter of Pope Francis in the background.

For the trip to the Philippines, the logo is a little more simple, featuring a white cross in a yellow circle at its center, surrounded by red and blue arms representing mercy and compassion. The colors used in the image are the colors of the Philippine flag. Father Lombardi noted that one of the purposes of the Pope’s journey to the Philippines is to offer comfort to the many victims of natural disasters, especially the victims of last year’s devastating typhoon.


It did not make the columns of the Vatican’s website NEWS.VA (as I write these words on Thursday at 7 pm) but it can be confirmed that Pope Francis today met briefly with actress and U.N. special envoy Angelina Jolie after the screening of her film, “Unbroken” at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy for Science in Vatican City. Argentinian Archbishop Marcello Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of this academy and the Academy for Social Sciences, introduced Jolie to the Pope. (Photo by L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis - A. Jolie - OR

Several Vatican officials and a number of ambassadors accredited to the Holy See were invited to the screening.  “Unbroken,” produced and directed by Jolie, is based on the 2010 book by author Laura Hillenbrand entitled, “Unbroken; A World War II Story of Survivla, Resilience and Redemption.” It recounts the life of American athlete and Olympian Louis Zamperini who survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber was downed in WWII, and was then sent to a series of prisoner of war camps. He survived that ordeal and died July 2, 2014 at the age of 97.

Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said this film demonstrated “positive human and spiritual values, in particular forgiveness.” He said, the meeting “lasted just a few minutes, even though it was naturally very significant for those present.” Jolie screened the film together with Zamperini’s son Luke. She also brought her two eldest daughters with her for the trip to Rome.