Vatican City, 15 January 2015 (VIS) – Early this morning the Holy Father travelled by car from the apostolic nunciature of Colombo to the airport, where he departed for Manila, capital of the Philippines. During the journey he stopped to visit the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute where he was received by Fr. Mahamale Quintus Fernando, rector of the Institute, and two hundred workers who had collaborated in building the centre in 2011. He then visited the “Our Lady of Lanka” Chapel, where he was awaited by ten Jesuit fathers belonging to the Community linked to the Institute, a choir and a group of fishermen from the area.
The Chapel of “Our Lady of Lanka” dates from 1911 and was initially dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Cardinal Jean-Marie Masson, O.M.I., archbishop of Colombo, made a vow to the Virgin: if the country was spared the horrors of war, he would build a shrine where the chapel stood, dedicated to “Our Lady of Lanka”. The works were completed in 1974 and it was consecrated in February of the same year, with the status of Minor Basilica granted by Pope Paul VI. The Benedict XVI Cultural Institute was opened in 2011 upon the initiative of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, to facilitate collaboration with the authorities and other agencies in rebuilding the nation following thirty years of civil war.
Pope Francis then resumed his journey to the airport, where Maithripala Sirisena, president of the Republic, various representatives of the civil authorities and a group of faithful bade him farewell.
At 9 a.m. local time the aircraft carrying the Pope departed from Colombo for the Filipino capital. After a flight of six and a quarter hours, he arrived at the Villamor Air Base in Manila where he was received by representatives of the religious and civil authorities, including the apostolic nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Pinto and the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III.
Two children offered flowers to the Pope as he disembarked, around one hundred adolescents sang “Welcome Pope Francis”, and a large group of smaller children dressed in white and yellow performed a lively dance. The Holy Father left the air base in an open Popemobile to travel the nine kilometres separating the base from the apostolic nunciature of Manila, during which he greeted the many faithful who awaited him. Upon arrival at the apostolic nunciature, he dined in private and rested.