(Reuters) – Pope Francis returns to Asia for the second time in less than six months, traveling to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in coming days to underscore his concern for inter-religious dialogue, poverty and the environment.
Security will be a main issue in both countries, particularly in the Philippines, Asia’s only majority Catholic country, where up to six million people are expected to attend an outdoor Mass on Jan. 18.
Up to 40,000 police, troops and reservists will take part in what military chief General Gregorio Catapang has called the country’s biggest ever security operation.
“There will be soldiers rappelling up and down helicopters to rescue the pope in case he will be pinned down by a sea of people. We may airlift or use naval boats to bring the pope to safety if necessary,” he said.
When Pope John Paul visited Manila in 1995, security perimeters were breached and he had to be taken by helicopter to a Mass site because his car could not get through a sea of some 5 million people.
One theme of the Jan. 12-19 trip will be climate change. During his stay in the Philippines he will visit Tacloban, where Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,300 people in 2013.
Sri Lanka is among the Asian countries experts say will see sea level rises likely to displace people and adversely affect tourism and fisheries.