Sri Lanka urged by Pope to seek truth in post-war reconciliation
EconomyNext – Pope Francis, who began an Asian tour with a visit to Sri Lanka Tuesday, called for the "pursuit of truth" in the island’s post-war reconciliation process, saying respect for human rights and dignity was as important as building infrastructure.
"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," he said in a speech soon after landing at Colombo’s international airport.
"It is no easy task to overcome the bitter legacy of injustices, hostility and mistrust left by the conflict," the pontiff said referring to the island’s 30-yearc ethnic war which ended in 2009.
"It can only be done by overcoming evil with good and by cultivating those virtues which foster reconciliation, solidarity and peace."
Francis, who also will visit the Philippines, plans to celebrate open-air masses during his trip including one in Colombo’s Galle Face Green promenade where he will canonise Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz, a Catholic missionary from India.
Catholics make up almost seven percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million and in recent years have been concerned over attacks by extremist Buddhist groups who have also targeted the island’s Muslim minority.
Francis was greeted by President Maithripala Sirisena, elected only last week in a presidential poll called two years ahead of schedule by his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa who has been accused of turning a blind eye to religious intolerance and human rights abuses and corruption.
Rajapaksa has also been accused of not co-operating with a United Nations probe into charges of human rights abuses during the war.
Sri Lanka’s minorities emerged kingmakers in the poll, voting against Rajapaksa who was seen as having not done enough to foster post-war reconciliation, focusing instead on an infrastructure building boom.
The pontiff made an indirect reference to the former strongman’s political stance, saying:
"The great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society."
Francis called for respect for diversity, saying "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."
All members of society must be "free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears," he said.
"Most importantly, they must be prepared to accept one another, to respect legitimate diversities, and learn to live as one family. Diversity is no longer seen as a threat, but as a source of enrichment."
In his remarks welcoming the Pope, President Sirisena said his government is promoting "peace and friendship among our people after overcoming a cruel terrorism conflict."
"We are a people who believe in religious tolerance and coexistence based on our centuries of religious heritage," he said.