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January 2015: an unforgettable trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

2015-12-26

The Pope started off the year by baptizing 33 children in the Sistine Chapel.

The babies behaved very well during the ceremony, but not all of them could hold back their tears. 

They were the children of Vatican employees, the only people who have the privilege of having the Pope baptize their children. 

A few days later, the Pope traveled to Sri Lanka. This is how he was welcomed at the airport. In fact, even elephants were there as part of the show. 

In 2009, the country emerged from 25 years of civil war. The wounds are still open from the conflict that led to the death of 100,000, leaving close to one million as refugees. 

The Pope's central message was one of reconciliation and of the importance of religion as a factor in peace. 

POPE FRANCIS
"It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices, hostility and mistrust left by the conflict. It can only be done by overcoming evil with good.”

In Colombo, before half a million people, the Pope canonized the country's first saint: Father José Vaz, who preached in hiding during the 18th century. 

Pope Francis stressed that the new saint worked for peace in a way that transcended religious divisions. This is a particularly important issue where Christians are just 7 percent of the country's 20 million inhabitants. 

The Pope visited the shrine in Madhu, the majority Tamil region of the island, where people of every religion found shelter during the civil war. He asked them to overcome their religious differences to restore a sense of community. 

POPE FRANCIS
"Yet only when we come to understand, in the light of the Cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance.”

From Sri Lanka, the Pope flew to the Philippines, which has the third largest Catholic population in the world. At the airport in Manila, he was treated with this extraordinary welcome.

In this country there are more than 200,000 children who were abandoned by their parents. The Pope deviated from his official itinerary to meet them and made a surprise visit to a foster home for homeless children.

He also visited Leyte, the island most affected by hurricane Yolanda in 2014. He went to Tacloban, a city that was completely destroyed. 
 
When he arrived he encountered a category 2 typhoon, but he didn't leave. He wanted to honor the memory of everyone who had died and of those who lost their families. 

POPE FRANCIS
"Many of you have asked the Lord, looking at Him: Why, Lord? And the Lord answers to each one of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart. It's the only thing I can tell you. Let us look to Christ, He is the lord and He understands us because He underwent all the trials that we go through.”

In the end, the storm forced him to leave the island long before he had intended. 

POPE FRANCIS
"I have to go now. Our flight to Manila was scheduled at five, but there's a category 2 typhoon around, and the pilots told us we must leave at one.”

During his last event in the country he made history. It was this Mass attended by about six million people, the most crowded papal ceremony in living memory.

During the return flight, a journalist asked a question about his views on contraception. Pope Francis said contraception isn't the answer, but rather 'responsible parenthood.' He explained it with very direct words. 

POPE FRANCIS
"Some think that, excuse my expression, that in order to be good Catholics they have to be like rabbits. No! Responsible parenthood!” 

Responsible parenthood means that each Catholic should decide in good conscience the number of children they can have. This concept excludes the use of contraceptives. Instead it means that couples should resort to natural family planning methods if necessary.

One of the passengers, a Mexican journalist named Valentina Alazraki, had her birthday that day. The Pope surprised her with a cake and asked her to blow out the candle in front of everyone.

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