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Pope Begins Asia Tour

Pope Francis waves as he boards a plane for his trip to Sri Lanka and Philippines at Fiumicino airport in Rome, Jan. 12, 2015.

Pope Francis has begun a week-long trip to Asia, leaving Rome for Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

The pope returns to Asia for the second time of his papacy, part of the Church's outreach to developing nations.

Pope Francis arrives Tuesday in Sri Lanka where he brings a message of interfaith harmony to a country still recovering from civil war. He will be greeted by Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena, who won a surprise election victory last week in part by promising increased respect for religious minorities.

Pope Francis Travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines
Pope Francis Travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

Sri Lanka is predominately Buddhist, but the Catholic Church sees itself as a unifying force in the community because it includes people from both the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic groups. The Sinhalese are predominately Buddhist while the Tamils are mostly Hindu.

While in Sri Lanka, Pope Francis will canonize Sri Lanka's first saint, Joseph Vaz. Vaz is a 17th century missionary credited with reviving the Catholic faith during a time of persecution by Dutch Calvinists.

On Thursday, the pope will travel to the Philippines, Asia's only majority Roman Catholic nation. Millions of people are expected to attend an outdoor Mass given by Pope Francis.

The trip to the Philippines comes 20 years after the last papal visit to the country, by John Paul II.

While in the Philippines, Pope Francis will also meet with victims of the devastating 2013 Typhoon Haiyan.

The Vatican says the pope will speak throughout his Asia trip on themes of the environment, poverty and family.