By R. Jeevan –
I don’t deny the fact that Defence Secretary Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa met Pope Francis. But, the meeting did not take place as it was exaggerated in Sri Lankan media. You may know Pope Francis has attracted a lot of support from all around the world for his simplicity and his newness in his leadership. Thousands and thousands of people flock to see the Pope every Wednesday and Sunday. Every Wednesday, according to the long Papal tradition the Pope holds a “General audience” to the faithful at St. Peter’s square. Nearly 100.000 faithful participates prayerfully during this General Audience which is known as “Wednesday Catechism” in which Pope as the supreme leader of the Church takes time to educate and instruct the faithful on particular themes that are more relevant to the Christian life. Usually when people in diplomatic levels and dignitaries of states (mainly those who are Catholics or believers in the Church) request to meet Pope they are invited to take part in these audiences. Before the audience Pope takes more than a half an hour to greet the pilgrims in the “Piazza”. Then he holds his catechism in different languages which lasts an hour and at the end of the audience he gives his Apostolic blessing and concludes the Audience. Usually Bishops and Cardinals greet the Pope immediately after the audience. Pope Francis takes time to greet and bless the special invitees too. When he greets special invitees and Bishops they usually offer the Pontiff with souvenirs. But he is strictly avoids any formal encounters.
Mr. Gotabaya and his delegation was such a “special participants” for the weekly “General Audience” on the 20th of November, 2013 as the Sri Lankan Opposition leader Mr. Ranil Wickiramesinghe met Pope Benedict XVI in January this year. Any Vatican officials or diplomats was unaware of such presence as these matters fall directly under the head of the Papal household. The photo which was released to the media portrays that Mr and Mrs Gotabaya Rajapaksa handing over a souvenir to the Pope which Pope receives with much affection at his return to the Papal apartments after his General audience.
The Pontiff usually meets heads of states. Pope Francis encourages himself in meeting important personalities too. Apart from the Pope, Secretary of State, or the Prime Minister is in charge of any diplomatic relation. There are nine Congregations (Ministries) and twelve Pontifical councils (commissions) which are headed by Cardinals and Archbishops and they look into the different interests of the Vatican State and the Catholic Church. They all work together and share information for a constructive outcome. There many officials who work in these offices in Vatican are called “Monsignors”. Monsignors, representing different departments and councils meet different people and are always available to welcome anyone irrespective of their faith and holds low level meetings.
So it is evident that Mr. Gotabaya has met some Monsignors who work in different departments (there are three Sri Lankan Monsignors who work in Vatican departments) and through them he had made an invitation to the Pope to visit Sri Lanka. It is not always assured that their request will reach the Pope or even the Secretary of State as they directly handle the issues through their “Apostolic Nunciature” (Embassies of Vatican).
But Vatican officials were well aware of an extra attempt by the Sri Lankan government to send a delegation which would meet Pope and make the official invitation for the Pontiff’s visit to Sri Lanka. But Vatican had categorically denied this request stating the traditional aspect which clearly says that the Pope meets officially only the heads of states.
Vatican on Sri Lanka…
Among all the countries in the world, Vatican is the only state which is clearly aware of what happened in Sri Lanka and what is happening there right now. Even during the peak of war in 2009 when United Nations and many other organizations pulled out their members from the war zone, Catholic Church was present there and witnessed the massacre and even the Catholic priests and religious were victimized. Church organizations are the first ones to open internationally the debate on “war crimes”. Even now many high level Church organizations which are directly connected to Vatican, keep them in the forefront publicly and secretly to fight for justice and peace in Sri Lanka. The officials of the Vatican office for Justice and Peace headed by veteran Cardinal Peter Turkson, are well aware of the ground situation. This commission legally bound to advise the Pope and other offices regarding the developments in Justice and Peace all around the world. Even Vatican has its officials working in the United Nations. This was evident when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was questioned during his last visit to Rome in June 2012, by the officials of the State department. So it would be highly wrong to say that Vatican is unaware of the ground situations in Sri Lanka. But due to diplomatic reasons Vatican keeps secrecy and work diligently.
With the arrival of Pope Francis in Vatican things have changed unexpectedly. More than diplomacy Vatican gives priority to humanity. Pope Francis openly speaks of many issues that were unspoken in the Church before. The Pope who is very much interested in restoring human dignity and giving propriety to humanity is for sure concerned very much regarding the countries that are accused of human rights violations. The present Pontiff is without any doubt well aware of the situation in Sri Lanka. When he was the Archbishop in the capital of Argentina he had ample opportunities to follow the recent developments in Sri Lanka, as there was a strong sentiment for Sri Lankan Tamils unlike many other countries in Latin America. When he met a Sri Lankan recently he has affectionately inquired about the present situation in Sri Lanka and especially regarding the reconciliation process.
Will the Pope Visit to Sri Lanka…
Recent developments in Vatican obviously speak of a Pope’s possible visit to Asia next year. As a leader interested in inter-religious dialogue and building good relationship with different faith and communities Pope’s visit may include India, Thailand, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Following the recent disaster in Philippines one can predict an earlier visit to this biggest Catholic country in Asia. His visit to India depends on the political and the practical aspects, while Thailand has already extended an open invitation to Pope Francis. His visit to Sri Lanka is highly contemplated due to many reasons. Anyhow despite the human rights record in Sri Lanka, Pope is looking forward to visit Sri Lanka mainly to visit the victims of war in the North and East and to shine a light upon the situation there. We can suggest that he may visit to our Lady of Madhu Shrine which stands as a symbol of unity and at the same time as the symbol of the long conflict. The olden Diocese of Jaffna is hoping that the Pope’s visit to Mullaitivu would be a fruitful and meaningful one. Anyhow unanimously the Sri Lankan Catholic Church would facilitate such a visit to north to strengthen its effort to promote reconciliation. Possibly, the visit may take place at the middle of next year. Already Sri Lankan Cardinal Malcom Ranjith has made an invitation to the Pope for the opening of the Asian Catholic University in the Archdiocese of Colombo. Another attempt is being made to invite him for the first ever canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz whose cause of canonization is seriously processed in Vatican. Though the Pope’s visit is almost confirmed yet the diplomatic factors would decide on when and how the visit will take place. Already Tamils and other Sri Lankans in exile have joined hands against the present government while the government is looking for all possible means to show off his colors and escape from the allegations. In this backdrop the Sri Lankan government has made this showcase to portray a good name in front of the International community by inviting Pope Francis, the much loved leader around the world. But clearly its initial efforts have failed. We will have to wait and see how the things will take place in the future. Will the Vatican too fall under the Sri Lankan politics?