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Pope’s Visit Can Provide Further Impetus Towards National Reconciliation

| The following statement issued by the National Peace Council

( October 17, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) There are indications of a snap Presidential Election being declared in the latter half of November and held as early as January 2015. Political parties are mobilizing their constituents for this eventuality. However, legally speaking, presidential elections are not due until November 2016. Therefore, the government retains considerable flexibility regarding the timing of the elections. Several members of political parties and civic and religious leaders have appealed to the President not to hold the election until the Executive Presidency is abolished or reformed. The National Peace Council urges the government to also consider the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka when deciding on the date of the presidential elections.

The Vatican has a policy of not having papal visits coincide with elections. The Pope’s visit is scheduled for January 13-15, with these dates being fixed in June this year. The Pope is expected to conduct religious services in both Colombo and Madhu, in the former Northern war zone, which can provide further impetus towards national reconciliation. Since there are significant numbers of Tamils who are Catholics and since the two bishops of Mannar and Jaffna in the North play an important role in furthering such reconciliation we think the Pope’s visit is best used to promote reconciliation between the government and the Tamil people. The Sinhalese Catholics of the South can make common cause with the Tamil Catholics in welcoming the Pope.

The canonization of Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz, will also take place during the papal visit. Blessed Joseph Vaz worked both in the North as well as the South and hence both Sinhalese and Tamil Catholics could participate in the ceremony. Even the clergy of other religions could be invited to be present. Blessed Joseph Vaz although from India was very much committed to serve Sri Lanka. He even worked in Kandy and received the protection of the Kandyan king.

We note that President Mahinda Rajapaksa acknowledged the importance of the Pope’s visit to Sri Lanka when he went personally to deliver an invitation to the Pope earlier this month. There was a doubt that early Presidential elections anticipated to take place in January might even compel a postponement or cancellation of his visit. This would cause great disappointment to the Catholic community in the country for the Pope’s visit includes the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz. However, in the aftermath of the President’s visit to meet the Pope a special team from the Vatican will visit Sri Lanka soon to ensure that the arrangements are in order. This is a positive indication that the Pope will indeed visit Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is currently having a poor international image in regard to religious amity due to widely reported acts of violence and militancy associated with different religions in the country. The visit of the Pope offers the prospect of depicting the multi-religious and plural nature of the polity in a positive light by showing how the government respects the sentiments of a section of its multi-religious population.

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