COLOMBO: Papal visits to Sri Lanka seem to be uncannily linked to regime changes in the island nation.
The first Pope to visit Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) was Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1970. He had been invited by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, but he was received by Senanayake’s successor, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
Between the invitation and the Pope’s visit to Sri Lanka, the right wing United National Party (UNP) government led by Dudley Senanayake, had been replaced by a left wing coalition led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The second Papal visit was in January 1995. In this case too, the Head of Government who had invited Pope John Paul, could not receive him because he had been defeated in an election. Pope John Paul was invited by President D.B.Wijetunga, who was President from May 1993 to November 1994. But when the Holy Father came in January 1995, he was received not by Wijetunga but by Chandrika Kumaratunga who had won the November 1994 Presidential election.
The President who invited Pope Francis did not receive him because he had been ousted in an election. It was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who invited Pope Francis to visit Sri Lanka when he got an audience with him at the Vatican in November 2014. But by the time the Pope came, as scheduled on January 13, 2015, Rajapaksa had been replaced by Maithripala Sirisena, and it was the latter who received him.
On January 9, the day the election result was out, honest attempts were made by Ranil Wickremsinghe, the Prime Minister-designate, to persuade Rajapaksa to join Sirisena in welcoming the Pope since it was he who had invited the head of the Catholic church. But Rajapaksa politely declined Wickremesinghe’s sporting offer.