| by Philip Pullella and Frank Jack Daniel
( January 14, 2015, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Pope Francis called on Sri Lanka to uncover the truth of what happened during its bloody war as part of a healing process between religious communities, as he arrived in Colombo a few days after the island's wartime leaders were voted out.
Soon after landing in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, Pope Francis appeared to make the case for a truth commission to investigate the 26-year civil war, an election pledge of the government voted into office on Thursday.
"The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity," he said, draped in a long garland of yellow and white roses.
Francis was speaking at Bandaranaike International Airport, where he was met by President Maithripala Sirisena, troupes of dancers and a children's choir. Sirisena said the visit was a blessing for his new government.
The pontiff departed past a long line of costumed elephants, reaching their trunks towards his open-topped white jeep, which briefly came to a halt surrounded by crowds lining the road. The motorcade's slow progress meant he arrived late in the capital, Colombo, and cancelled an afternoon meeting with bishops.
Francis is the first Pope to visit Sri Lanka in 20 years.Fighting between the mainly Hindu Tamils and the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority ended in 2009 with a crushing defeat for the Tamils.
Pope Francis had first-hand experience of devastating civil strife as a priest in his native Argentina during its "Dirty War". A subsequent 50,000-page Truth Report revealed shocking details of kidnappings, rape and torture by the military junta.
The 78-year-old will spend two days in Sri Lanka before heading to the Philippines as part of a trip aimed at shoring-up the Church's presence in developing nations. The week-long tour is his second to Asia.
The Pope carried a message of inter-faith dialogue, chiming with the new government's push for religious harmony.
"My government is promoting peace and friendship among our people after overcoming a cruel terrorist conflict. We have people who believe in religious tolerance and coexistence based on centuries old religious heritage," Sirisena said.
About 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists. Hindus make up about 13 percent and Muslims 10 percent. Catholics are about 7 percent, split between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils.
Francis will canonize Sri Lanka's first Catholic saint on Wednesday, and visit a pilgrimage site that was shelled in 1999.
Following is the full text of the speech delivered by Pope Francsis upon his arrival in Sri Lanka this ( January 13) morning:
Honourable Government Authorities,
Your Eminence, Your Excellencies,
I thank you for your warm welcome. I have looked forward to this visit to Sri Lanka and these days which we will spend together. Sri Lanka is known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean for its natural beauty. Even more importantly, this island is known for the warmth of its people and the rich diversity of their cultural and religious traditions.
Mr President, I extend to you my best wishes for your new responsibilities. I greet the distinguished members of the government and civil authorities who honour us by their presence. I am especially grateful for the presence of the eminent religious leaders who play so important a role in the life of this country. And of course, I would like to express my appreciation to the faithful, the members of the choir, and the many people who helped make this visit possible. I thank you all, from the heart, for your kindness and hospitality.
My visit to Sri Lanka is primarily pastoral. As the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, I have come to meet, encourage and pray with the Catholic people of this island. A highlight of this visit will be the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, whose example of Christian charity and respect for all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion, continues to inspire and teach us today. But my visit is also meant to express the Church’s love and concern for all Sri Lankans, and to confirm the desire of the Catholic community to be an active participant in the life of this society.
It is a continuing tragedy in our world that so many communities are at war with themselves. The inability to reconcile differences and disagreements, whether old or new, has given rise to ethnic and religious tensions, frequently accompanied by outbreaks of violence. Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years. It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices, hostility and mistrust left by the conflict. It can only be done by overcoming evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21) and by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace. The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.
Dear friends, I am convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding which is taking place in this country. For that process to succeed, all members of society must work together; all must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears. Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities, and learn to live as one family. Whenever people listen to one another humbly and openly, their shared values and aspirations become all the more apparent. Diversity is no longer seen as a threat, but as a source of enrichment. The path to justice, reconciliation and social harmony becomes all the more clearly seen.
In this sense, the great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society. It is my hope that Sri Lanka’s political, religious and cultural leaders, by measuring their every word and action by the good and the healing it will bring, will make a lasting contribution to the material and spiritual progress of the Sri Lankan people.
Mr President, dear friends, I thank you once again for your welcome. May these days we spend together be days of friendship, dialogue and solidarity. I invoke an abundance of God’s blessings upon Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and I pray that its beauty may shine forth in the prosperity and peace of all its people.