Sri Lanka group asks Vatican to reconsider Francis' visit due to polls

(Photo: REUTERS / Stoyan Nenov)Pope Francis is seen through a window aboard his plane as he leaves Istanbul, November 30, 2014. Pope Francis said Islamic militants were carrying out a "profoundly grave sin against God" in Syria and Iraq, calling on Sunday for inter-religious dialogue and action against poverty to help end the conflicts there.

A Christian group in Sri Lanka has appealed to the Vatican to reassess the decision to go ahead with Pope Francis' 2014 visit to the island due to presidential polls scheduled a week before the pontiff arrives.

Members of the Christian Solidarity Movement, composed of priests, nuns and laypeople, noted that the papal visit - the first of a two-country Asian swing - would occur too close to the elections and could "spoil" the historic event.

The group fears that political spin doctors might use the visit to curry favor among the minority Christian voters to secure the victory of particular candidates, a report by Asianews.it said.

Its movement's members held a meeting on November 22 in Colombo to discuss the impact of the polls to the visit and to organize a collective action regarding the upcoming event.

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"At first, we understood that [it was common practice] that a pope did not visit a country when elections were being held a month before or after his arrival," the group said in a statement.

The CSM surmised that it appeared "election organizers will exploit the Pope's visit as a political tool."

The group cited a number of campaign posters of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which showed him and Francis at the Vatican where the top Sri Lankan official paid a courtesy call to the pontiff earlier this year.

By using photo-editing software, other candidates have managed to get insert their pictures in the same frame as that of the Pope, who should be visiting the island nation from January 13 to 15.

"We do not want see the pictures of the Pope used by any politician," the group wrote.

The appeal, which was addressed to "Vatican authorities," reiterated their support to Francis "especially his love for the poor and marginalized. We appreciate his efforts to bring about changes in the Church."

Rajapaksa is seeking an unprecedented third consecutive term after he abolished the constitutional limits to reelection after winning a fresh mandate in 2010.

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