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Francis is set to become the first pope to set foot in Sri Lanka’s northern Tamil territory, amid accusations of ill treatment there by the country’s Singalese majority.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said that Pope Francis will visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, 160 miles north of the capital, in the heart of the former conflict zone and meet victims of the civil war
Francis’ pilgrimage to the 400-year old shrine is expected to highlight ongoing human rights abuses and denigrating conditions of Tamils following the crushing of the Tamil Tiger insurgency in 2009. Since then the north has been under military occupation. Reconciliation has stalled as government have refused to acknowledge war crimes.
Tamil priest S. J. Emmanuel of the Global Tamil Forum told Vatican Insider: “The presence of the Pope will contribute to raising awareness of the current conditions of war victims where people still live in a regime of military occupation, and are subject to intimidations, repressions and glaring human rights abuses."
Sri Lanka ”remains divided by the experiences of war,” he said. “We wish for Pope Francis’ visit to represent a turning point for the Church, moving towards a more courageous and prophetic approach.”
The official programme of the trip, 13-15 January has not yet been published, but Ranjith said Francis will hold mass in the Dutch founded church before meeting and bless Tamil families who suffered in the war.
The Shrine of Madhu, founded by the Dutch, became a symbol for religious unity and was supposed to remain a “free zone” during the war, but was shelled several times.