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(Video): Pope Francis Arrives in Sri Lanka, the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean"

Diane Montagna - published on 01/13/15

Pontiff traces out path to healing, peace, and reconciliation after country's bitter civil war

Shortly before 9am local time this morning, Pope Francis arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the first leg of a one-week apostolic journey that will also take him to the Philippines later this week.

Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Aiport after nearly a ten hour flight from Rome, the Pope was welcomed by the newly elected President of the Republic, His Excellency Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, along with several dignitaries, including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, who serves as Archbishop of Colombo and as President of the Sri Lankan bishops’ conference. Traditional dancers also greeted the Pope, along with a choir of children singing a hymn composed especially for the occasion.

Following a welcome address by President Sirisena, Pope Francis delivered an address in English, in which he expressed his desire that the apostolic visit would help to bring peace and reconciliation to the nation after a bitter 30-year civil war.

"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 Pope also expressed his firm conviction 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," he said, "all members of society must work together; all must have a voice".

Here below we publish the full text of the Pope’s address.

***

Mr President,

Honourable Government Authorities, Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Dear Friends,

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.

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