Friendship, dialogue, solidarity: with these three words the Pope introduced the theme of his visit to Sri Lanka in the address he delivered at the arrival ceremony, in which he honoured the island with its traditional title, “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
This desire for encounter marked the first hours in Colombo, where Francis was welcomed with respect and fondness by the President. Elected just days ago, Maithripala Sirisena, himself a Buddhist, said that the Papal journey would be an occasion to receive blessings for the high-ranking office he had just assumed, adding that the canonization of Blessed Vaz is an honour for the people of Sri Lanka.
In a country which has been severed for 30 years by a bloody civil war interwoven with religious pretexts, and on the day after his address to the Diplomatic Corps in which he again condemned the use of religion falsified by ideologies of violence, the Pontiff dedicated the first day of his visit to the necessity of dialogue, a central theme expounded by the Pope in the meeting with the Bishops of Asia during his journey to Korea.
In the process of recovery, which must give preference to truth, a fundamental role will be played in Sri Lanka by the “followers of the various religious traditions”: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians. And of course not only Christians — although Catholics are an important minority in the country — were among the innumerable Sri Lankans who flocked to greet Francis, who stood in the popemobile the entire 30-kilometre journey between the airport and the capital.
In the footsteps of Paul VI and John Paul II, who visited the country in recent decades, the Pope, in an evocative meeting with hundreds of religious exponents, reasserted the words of the Vatican II Declaration. on non-Christian religions. He stated that the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions”. The affirmation, although adopted by the Council half a century ago, dates back to an age-old conviction in Christian tradition, one mature in patristic times and a millennium later as a basis of the pioneering Jesuit missions in India, Japan, China.
Elaborating on the theme of dialogue, the Pope said that “it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions”. In this manner, the differences certainly emerge, but also the similarities between religions. And it is Francis’ conviction that “new avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship”, as shown by the large gathering in Colombo.
Although this common “desire for wisdom, truth and holiness” has particular meaning in Sri Lanka, where recovery and unity are necessary after the civil war, Francis’ words are also of general value in a time devastated in various regions of the world by fundamentalist terrorism. Indeed, “religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war”, the Pope repeated. And we must be “unequivocal” in denouncing acts of violence.
St. Peter’s Square
March 20, 2019
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