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Pope heads to Sri Lanka, kicking off Asia trip

13 january 2015, 11:31

 Pope Francis set off on Monday for a six-day trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, where his open-air masses are expected to draw millions, AFP reports.

The pope left at 7:00 pm local time (1800 GMT) from Rome's Fiumicino airport and was expected to land in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo at 9:00 am local time (0330 GMT) on Tuesday.

The trip comes just five months after Francis visited South Korea, signalling the huge importance the Vatican places on Asia and its potential for more followers.

In Sri Lanka, the pope will preach reconciliation, as the majority Buddhist nation of 20 million people continues to endure ethnic conflict following the end in 2009 of nearly four decades of civil war.

In the Philippines, the Argentinian pontiff with a man-of-the-people reputation could attract one of the biggest gatherings ever for a pope during an open-air mass in the capital of Manila.

Church officials say the pope's visit is also a "mercy and compassion" trip to meet survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which claimed 7,350 lives when it destroyed entire farming and fishing communities in impoverished areas of the central Philippines in 2013.

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