VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis will host a luncheon for Filipino survivors of the deadly Typhoon Haiyan during his Jan. 12-19 visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, his second visit to Asia in a year that confirms the region is a priority for his pontificate.
The Vatican on Friday released the itinerary for the pope's visit, which comes just five months after his August pilgrimage to South Korea.
Francis first flies to Colombo, where he will canonize Sri Lanka's first saint, the Rev. Giuseppe Baz, a 17th-century missionary credited with reviving the Catholic faith in the country.
The pope arrives in Manila Jan. 15, and two days later flies to the central city of Tacloban, hardest hit by the Nov. 8, 2013, typhoon that left more than 7,300 people dead or missing. There he will celebrate Mass, host a luncheon and comfort survivors.
The visit is "very unexpected but is also very much welcome," Archbishop John Du of Palo near Tacloban said in a statement.
Francis' final public event is a Mass in Manila's Rizal Park on Jan. 18. The Philippines' presidential executive secretary, Paquito Ochoa, said the crowd was expected to number "in the millions."
When St. John Paul II visited the Philippines in 1995, he drew 5 million people to Mass, a record that no pope has since matched. Francis just may, given his enormous popularity in a country that appreciates his attention to the poor.
Asia is widely considered the future of the Catholic Church, growing there while it withers in traditionally Christian Europe. Despite being a minority religion in every Asian nation except the Philippines, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, the church baptizes more Catholics in Asia every year than in Europe, according to Vatican statistics.
Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed from Manila.
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