Pope's Sri Lankan trip could be shelved if polls held week before visit

(Photo: REUTERS / Romeo Ranoco)Human rights advocates and families of missing persons place pictures of their loved ones beside a cut-out of Pope Francis during a rally on All Soul's Day in Manila, November 2, 2014. The relatives have sent a letter to Pope Francis asking him to intercede in the disappearances, according to the organisers of the event. The Pontiff will visit the Philippines in January.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa who invited Pope Francis to visit and the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, say a papal trip will to the island will go ahead, though the date of snap elections is not known.

Pope Francis' first stop on his visit to Asia early next year was put in limbo after a Sri Lankan official said the island nation intends to hold elections the same month as the pontiff's scheduled visit to Colombo.

Church officials on October 27 formally asked the government in Sri Lanka to make clear its plans on whether it intends to conduct the polls in January.

The president confirmed the visit Sunday upon the arrival of a Vatican delegation, which traveled to Sri Lanka to discuss the final details of the trip, ucanews.com reported.

Earlier, church officials said the timing of the Papal visit to a country in the midst of a national election was "inappropriate."

"We are yet to decide anything," said church spokesman Cyril Gamini Fernando. "There will be a meeting of the bishops to discuss this."

Sri Lanka Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella had announced October 27 that President Mahinda Rajapakse would take a crack at an unprecedented third term with an election in January.

Rajapakse removed the term limits on the presidency shortly after winning a second term in 2010.

Observers had been widely anticipating an early election, but official sources pointed to the stars as one factor being considered in the timing of the polls.

Sources said the dates of January 7, 8, and 9 had been considered astrologically auspicious for Rajapakse and the vote could be held on one of those dates.

Francis is scheduled to visit Colombo from January 12 to 15, then head to the Philippines from January 15 to 19.

Part of his agenda in Sri Lanka is the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, whose sainthood was approved at the October 27 public consistory of cardinals at the Vatican.

In an interview with ucanews.com, Sri Lanka opposition lawmaker John Amaratunga advised the government to defer the election until after the papal visit.

"The Pope will come to Sri Lanka to hold the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz and this is a great opportunity for the Catholic community in the country," said Amarathunga.

"The election should not be in January and it could be held at any time in March."

Amarathunga raised concern over the outcome of the polls, saying "post-election violence" might occur.

Roman Catholics a minority, account for around six percent of the population, in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka.

Copyright © 2014 Ecumenical News