By Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News VATICAN CITY – When Pope Francis visits Sri Lanka and the Philippines this week he won’t be the first pope to do so.
Blessed Paul VI went on a papal visit to the two countries in 1970.
Saint John Paul II did it as well not once but twice – first as a relatively new pope in 1981 then in 1995 for the world youth day.
But the two south Asian countries couldn’t be more different in terms of Catholic demographics.
In mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka, Catholics make up about seven percent of the population while the Philippines is the only country in Asia with a Catholic majority at 80 percent.
Both the Sri Lanka and Philippine legs will have courtesy visits with the presidents, meeting with bishops and a brief encounter with leaders of other religions and religious groups.
In Sri Lanka under the theme “abide in love” the pope will celebrate the canonization of blessed Joseph Vaz the 17th century Indian missionary credited with defending and reviving the Catholic faith in the country.
Being a Marian devotee the pope will also visit two shrines dedicated to Mary the mother of Christ: the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in the mostly Catholic northern part of Sri Lanka, site of the decades-old civil war and the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka.
In the Philippine visit where the theme is “mercy and compassion” the pope’s schedule will consist mostly of what the pope likes to call “personal encounters” with victims of typhoon Yolanda and other calamities, with families undergoing difficult challenges, and with the youth.
Despite the differences in the itinerary, there’s one theme that ties the two visits together and that’s healing. Pope Francis hopes to help promote healing for those wounded by the decades’ old civil war in Sri Lanka’s civil war and those afflicted by calamities in the Philippines.