In Sri Lanka, pope appeals for national reconciliation

Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 13.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis shakes hands with Hindu Kurukkal SivaSri T. Mahadeva after receiving a robe from him during a meeting with religious leaders in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 13.

January 26, 2015
FRANCIS ROCCA
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – Pope Francis told Sri Lankans seeking reconciliation after two-and-a-half decades of civil war that, before they can forgive each other, they must repent of their own sins.

"Only when we come to understand, in light of the cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance," the pope said Jan. 14, during a prayer service in the northern jungle town of Madhu.

"Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness."

The pope had traveled 250 kms in a helicopter from the capital city of Colombo to visit the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, which houses a statue of Mary venerated by Sri Lankans since the 16th century.

During the 26-year struggle between government forces and rebels from the country's Tamil minority, which ended in 2009, both sides recognized the area around the shrine as a demilitarized zone. It served as a sanctuary for thousands of war refugees.

Dancers perform before Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Joseph Vaz in Columbo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Dancers perform before Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Joseph Vaz in Columbo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 14.

The 300,000 people assembled for the pope's visit included families who had lost members during what he described as a "long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka."

MARY FORGAVE

Pope Francis invoked Mary, who "forgave her son's killers at the foot of the cross," saying she would guide the country to "greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God's pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all."

After returning to Colombo, the pope paid an unscheduled visit to a Buddhist temple at the headquarters of the Maha Bodhi Society, responding to an invitation he had received the previous day from its head priest, the Venerable Banagala Upatissa.

The temple leaders showed the pope historical relics of Buddha's disciples, normally exposed only for the annual Buddhist feast in May.

The 25-minute papal visit "was a gift to the whole Buddhist world. That is why we decided to show him the relic," Venerable Upatissa told Catholic News Service.

At a Mass attended by more than 500,000 in a beachfront park on the Indian Ocean, the pope proclaimed what he called the "fundamental human right" of religious freedom.

FREEDOM FROM COMPULSION

"Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion," the pope said.

Pope Francis gave his homily Jan. 14 half an hour after canonizing St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th- and 18th-century missionary from India who rebuilt the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka after its suppression by Dutch Protestant colonists.

The pope called on Catholics today to emulate the new saint by spreading the Gospel with "missionary zeal."

St. Joseph won the support of a Buddhist king by caring for victims of a smallpox epidemic, and thus "was allowed greater freedom to minister," he noted.

The pope went on to praise today's Sri Lankan Catholics, who make up only seven per cent of the population, for their charitable service to their neighbours.