Singaporeans made trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines to see the Pope

Several Singaporeans were among the thousands who lined the roads in Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday morning to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis as he made his way from the airport in an open-car procession.

Among them was pre-press foreman Angela Perumal-Schooling, 62, who stood with the crowds to greet and wave flags at the 78-year-old pontiff, who had arrived from Rome for a six-day Asia visit.

Together with 15 other Catholics hailing from seven parishes in Singapore, the group had gathered at around 7am and waited for more than three hours before Pope Francis passed by.

Said Ms Perumal-Schooling, who worships at the Church of St Bernadette in Zion Road: "I was going to tear... I felt very blessed to be in his presence. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"We were quite close to him. I could see that his face was flushed. Perhaps he is not used to the weather here."

During his three-day stay in Sri Lanka, the Pope will visit the historic Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which houses a 450-year-old statue of the Virgin Mary, and conduct a mass at Galle Face Green, an urban park located along the coastline.

Some Singaporeans are also making their way to the Philippines, which the Pope will visit tomorrow. One of them is marketing and sales executive Jelena Chia, 24. She will be flying to Manila this morning to visit her family's former domestic helper of 18 years, and said she will take the opportunity to attend a public mass conducted by the Pope on Friday.

Ms Chia said she is looking forward to the experience and wants to emulate his faith. "I don't see him as a superstar. I see him as a man who is on the ground... He speaks on taboo topics which other popes have been otherwise diplomatic about."

adrianl@sph.com.sg

melodyz@sph.com.sg