Pope will visit Philippines, Sri Lanka in January


MANILA, Philippines — Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle confirmed July 29 that Pope Francis will visit Jan. 15-19, after spending several days in Sri Lanka.

Church and government officials did not give details of the visit, saying instead that specifics would be released before the end of the year. The pope is expected to visit Manila and the Visayas, in the central Philippines.

Late last year, major disasters struck numerous island provinces in the Visayas.

On Oct. 15, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Bohol province, killing more than 200 people and causing major destruction in surrounding islands. Less than a month later, Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central part of the country, killing 6,300 people.

The typhoon’s 215 mile-per-hour winds kicked up a 15-foot storm surge in the coastal city of Tacloban in Leyte province. The tsunami-like wave also swept people away in nearby Palo and Tanauan, where local churches lost hundreds of parishioners.

In early July, Vatican officials visited Tacloban and surrounding areas in preparation for the pope’s visit, the cardinal said.

Cardinal Tagle, who heads the committee planning the papal visit, announced the theme of the visit would be “Mercy and Compassion.”

The dates of Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines coincide with the dates that the country hosted World Youth Day and St. John Paul II in 1995.

Church officials have said this is only the second time a pope will visit locations outside Manila.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, and Paquito Ochoa Jr., the Philippine president’s executive secretary, are also on the central committee for the visit.

The Vatican press office also announced the dates for the Philippines and said Pope Francis would visit Sri Lanka Jan. 12-15. It released no details of the visits.