Pope calls for Sri Lanka reconciliation

Pope Francis' Asia tour starts in Sri Lanka, a country still recovering from a 37-year ethnic conflict.

    Pope Francis has arrived in Sri Lanka at the start of a weeklong Asian tour, saying the island-nation cannot fully heal from more than a quarter-century of ethnic civil war without pursuing truth for the injustices committed.

    The pope delivered a speech on the tarmac of Colombo's international airport on Tuesday, in the first papal visit in two decades.

    "The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth," said the pope, whose visit will focus on reconciliation in a country still recovering from a 37-year ethnic conflict that pitted Tamil separatists against government troops.

    "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."

    The pope arrived to a colourful welcome ceremony, complete with traditional drummers and dancers from both the Sinhalese and Tamil groups, and a children's choir singing a song of welcome in both languages of Sri Lanka - as well as English and Italian.

    Al Jazeera's Minelle Fernandez, reporting from Colombo, said a lot of excitement has been seen, not just among the Catholic faithful but from the population as a whole.

    "We have seen people lining the streets along the route that Pope Francis will take as he's driven into Colombo from the airport this morning."

    Meeting religious leaders

    Francis has a busy first day, including meetings with the country's bishops and representatives of the country's major religious groups.

    He is expected to call for greater dialogue among the country's Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Catholics amid a surge in anti-Muslim violence by fundamentalist Buddhists.

    Sinhalese are mostly Buddhist while Tamils are mostly Hindu. Catholics make up less than 7 percent of the country's 20 million people, but the church counts both Sinhalese and Tamils as members and sees itself as a strong source for national unity.

    On Wednesday, Francis will canonise Sri Lanka's first saint, the Reverend Giuseppe Vaz, a 17th century missionary credited with having revived the Catholic faith among both Sinhalese and Tamils amid persecution by Dutch colonial rulers, who were Calvinists.

    Later in the day he flies into Tamil territory to pray at a shrine beloved by both Sinhalese and Tamil faithful.

    On Thursday he heads to the Philippines, the largest Roman Catholic country in Asia and third-largest in the world, for the second and final leg of the journey.

    There he will comfort victims of the devastating 2013 Typhoon Haiyan, which left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, and displaced about 4 million.

    People lined the streets where the pope was going to pass [Matthew East/Al Jazeera]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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