(AFP) Pope Francis will travel to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January for his second trip to a continent where evangelisation is a big priority for the Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Tuesday.
The 77-year-old will visit Sri Lanka from January 12 to 15, before heading to the Philippines — Asia’s largest Catholic country — until January 19.
The trip will come five months after Francis’s first visit to Asia — an upcoming visit to South Korea scheduled for August 14-18 this year.
Asia had repeatedly been tipped as a destination for possible papal trips as Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI did not travel there during his eight-year pontificate. The continent is considered rich with potential for the Church.
Catholics make up just 3.2 percent of the population in Asia, but the number of believers is growing steadily.
Francis will be travelling to Sri Lanka — where 7.0 percent of the population is Catholic — in a period of difficulty for the local Church.
He is expected to use his visit to encourage the Church to push for reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils, five years after the end of the island’s civil war.
The Philippines trip will have a different tone.
The pontiff will hold masses with the faithful before likely visits to areas devastated last year by Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon Yolanda.
The Church is an influential force in the Philippines, which counts around 80 percent of its 100 million-strong population as Catholics.