Pope cancels meeting with bishops in Sri Lanka due to ‘exhaustion’ after long journey from the airport exposed him to strong sun
Pope arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka today after long haul flight from Rome
He then spent more than an hour under the sun during transfer into city
Streets were lined with hundreds of thousands of people for his visit
Canceled a lunch time meeting with bishops because he was ‘exhausted’
Carried on with duties after rest, including meeting at presidential palace
Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned meeting with Sri Lankan bishops – because he was ‘exhausted’ after a long journey exposed to the sun. The 78-year-old arrived in the capital Colombo on Tuesday on his Asia tour before traveling for an hour into the city from the airport on roads lined with well-wishers. The pope was taken in an open-top car with no protection from the strong sun and after a long overnight flight from Rome.
Pope Francis was forced to cancel a planned meeting with Sri Lankan bishops – because he was ‘exhausted’ after a long journey exposed to the sun.
A Vatican spokesman had said earlier that the meeting with the bishops had been cancelled due to the pope’s late arrival from the airport. But a source working on security arrangements who asked not to be named told AFP the pontiff looked ‘exhausted’ after his journey.
Pope Francis has shunned the pomp of his predecessors, and said earlier this year he prefers not to use the bulletproof ‘popemobile’ favoured by previous pontiffs. Journalists travelling with him said he appeared on good form during the flight. But after disembarking, he spent nearly two hours in total greeting dignitaries and well-wishers along the 28-kilometer (18-mile) route into town – under scorching sun.
He did not specifically mention Sri Lanka’s refusal to cooperate with a U.N. investigation into alleged war crimes committed in the final months of the war. But he said: ‘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.’ A 2011 U.N. report said up to 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed in the last months of the civil war, and accused both sides of serious human rights violations. It said the government was suspected of deliberately shelling civilians and hospitals and preventing food and medicine from getting to civilians trapped in the war zone. The Tamil Tiger rebels were accused of recruiting child soldiers and holding civilians as human shields and firing from among them. A few months after the U.N. report was released, the government of longtime President Mahinda Rajapaksa released its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission findings, which concluded that Sri Lanka’s military didn’t intentionally target civilians at the end of the war and that the rebels routinely violated international humanitarian law.
Sri Lanka’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena who unseated Rajapaksa last week, has promised to launch a domestic inquiry into wartime abuses, but has also pledged to protect everyone who contributed to the defeat of the Tamil Tiger separatists from international legal action. Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the responsibility for finding the truth was Sri Lanka’s alone and stressed that Francis had made clear that the goal of determining the truth isn’t to open old wounds. Sirisena, who was sworn in Friday, told Francis in the airport welcoming ceremony that his government aims to promote ‘peace and friendship among our people after overcoming a cruel terrorist conflict.’ ‘We are a people who believe in religious tolerance and coexistence based on our centuries-old heritage,’ he said.
In a show of that coexistence, the pope’s welcome ceremony at Colombo’s airport featured traditional dancers and drummers from both ethnic groups and a children’s choir serenading him in both of Sri Lanka’s languages. Tamils, however, say they are still discriminated against, and human rights activists said the previous government wasn’t serious about probing rights abuses.
The Vatican estimated that some 200,000-300,000 people lined Francis’ route in from the airport.
After resting, Francis met with Sirisena privately at the presidential palace in the late afternoon and then rallied to greet dozens of saffron-robbed Buddhist monks and representatives of Sri Lanka’s other main religions.
At one point, he donned a saffron shawl over his shoulders, a traditional Tamil sign of honor.
‘What is needed now is healing and unity, not further division and conflict,’ Francis told the audience. ‘It is my hope that interreligious and ecumenical cooperation will demonstrate that men and women do not have to forsake their identity, whether ethnic or religious, in order to live in harmony with their brothers and sisters.’ Some 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhist – most from the Sinhalese ethnic group. Another 13 percent are Hindu, most of them Tamil, and some 10 percent are Muslim. Catholics make up less than 7 percent of the island nation’s 20 million people, but the church counts both Sinhalese and Tamils as members and sees itself as a strong source of national unity.
When John Paul visited in 1995, Buddhist representatives boycotted his interfaith meeting to protest his views on the Buddhist concept of salvation.
‘It is a blessing and will be helpful for interreligious friendship,’ said the Rev. Wimalananda, a young Buddhist monk, who was out on the street to welcome the pope. Francis arrived just days after Rajapaksa was upset in an election he had called. The victor, Sirisena, had defected from the ruling party in November in a surprise move and won the election by capitalsing on Rajapaksa’s unpopularity among ethnic and religious minorities. On Wednesday, Francis will canonise Sri Lanka’s first saint, the Rev. Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century missionary from India who is credited with having revived the Catholic faith among both Sinhalese and Tamils amid persecution by Dutch colonial rulers, who were Calvinists. Colombo’s beachfront Galle Face Green was filling up on Tuesday evening with people who planned to camp out overnight to secure a good spot for the Mass. Later in the day he flies into Tamil territory to pray at a shrine beloved by both Sinhalese and Tamil faithful. On Thursday he heads to the Philippines, the largest Roman Catholic country in Asia and the third-largest in the world, for the second and final leg of the journey.
Source: Daily Mail