( Vatican Radio) Pope Francis arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday morning, at the beginning of a week-long visit to Asia that will see him in both Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The Holy Father arrived to pomp and circumstance: traditional dancers, a children’s choir performing an especially composed hymn to mark the visit, as well as the execution of the anthems of the Holy See and Sri Lanka by the military band, along with a 21-gun salute.
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The newly-elected and installed President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, offered official words of greeting to Pope Francis, thanking him for the visit and asking his blessing upon himself and his whole nation and people:
It is indeed significant that Your Holiness has commenced this apostolic journey to Asia with a visit to Sri Lanka. Your visit is also particularly significant to me personally, as I have been elected to the office of President only few days ago. The visit of Your Holiness gives me an opportunity to receive your blessings as I commence my term of office.
The visit of Pope Francis to the island nation, known as “the pearl of the Indian ocean ” for its natural beauty, comes as Sri Lankans work to heal the scars of a decades-long civil war that ended in 2009. The need for genuine reconciliation in order to achieve justice and true, lasting peace, was a focal point of the Holy Father’s own remarks at the welcome ceremony:
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.
The role of religious believers in fostering peace and furthering the common good was another theme of the Holy Father’s remarks:
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.
The centerpiece of the Holy Father’s visit to Sri Lanka is the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz, a 17th and early 18th century priest, who was great hero of the cause of the Gospel in Sri Lanka – a cause that is very much alive and in the service of the whole Sri Lankan people in this day:
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.
The canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz is to take place during an open-air Mass in Colombo on Wednesday.