VATICAN CITY (AFP) – Pope Francis will travel to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January for his second trip to a continent where evangelisation is a big priority for the Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Tuesday.
The 77-year-old Argentinian will visit Sri Lanka from January 12 to 15, before heading to the Philippines – Asia’s largest Catholic country – until January 19.
The trip will come six months after Francis’s first visit to Asia – an upcoming visit to South Korea scheduled for August 14 to 18 this year.
Asia had been repeatedly been tipped as a destination for possible papal trips as Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI did not travel there during his eight-year pontificate. The continent is considered rich with potential for the Church.
Catholics make up just 3.2 percent of the population in Asia, but the number of believers is growing steadily.
Francis will be travelling to Sri Lanka – where some 7.0 percent of the population is Catholic – in a period of difficulty for the local church.
He is expected to use his visit to encourage the church to push for reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils, bitter enemies since the 1983 to 2009 civil war whose animosity is threatening to tear the local Catholic community apart.
The Philippines trip will be held on a very different note: there are around 90 million Catholics in the country – 83 percent of the population – and the pontiff will hold masses with the faithful before likely visits to areas devastated by the Yolanda typhoon in 2013.