Colombo (AsiaNews) - A "pastoral" visit; for the cannonization of Joseph Paz "whose example of Christian charity and respect for all people, regardless of ethnicity or religion, continues to inspire and teach us today"; but above all to push the Catholic community to "be an active participant in the life of this society" to promote "reconciliation, solidarity and peace" (see video).
This is how Pope Francis outlined his visit to Sri Lanka, known as "the Pearl of the Indian Ocean", but marked by nearly 30 years of civil war, with a toll of around 60 thousand lives and with wounds still open.
The pontiff arrived at Colombo airport at 9 am (local time) and was greeted with a flower necklace and a mixture of celebration and military honors: along red carpet that led him to the pavilion for the welcoming ceremony, groups of artists with red and white headdresses danced to the rhythm of drums and wind instruments; an elephant waving its trunk, bearing ceremonial decorations; and a children's choir, girls and boys sang him a song of welcome in different languages, including Italian. The pope, always sensitive to the situation of children and young people, thanked them explicitly in his speech.
The song described the Pope as having com with "the peace of God in his heart." And peace is what this society needs most.
Francis mentioned this in his speech: "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".
The Pope traced a path of "reconciliation", which includes Christians, close to other members of society and religions: "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 healing process - he added- 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"." It 'a clear reference to the investigations of the UN war crimes tribunal, the manipulations to hamper it by the former President Mahinda Rajapakhsa, who just a few days ago lost the election, giving way to Maithripala Sirisena, who in front of the pope, promised to work for "the peace and reconciliation" of his people.
In this context, Pope Francis, underlined the "essential role" of "the followers of different religious traditions", in the country which after the Buddhist majority, includes Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Their coexistence is not easy given the presence of a fundamentalist Buddhist fringe who defend themselves with anti-conversion laws and side with the Sinhalese against the Tamils.
"All - remembers the pontiff - 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".
Concluding, the Pope addressed the social imbalances: the economy of Sri Lanka after the tsunami of 2004 and the end of the war is rapidly developing, and poverty has been reduced to 6.4%, but major economic projects threaten to marginalize segments of the population linked to the local economy. "The great work of rebuilding - said the pontiff - 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".
Leaving the airport, Francis went to the Nunciature, where he celebrated Mass in private.
During his flight, as is tradition, the pontiff sent messages and telegrams to the heads of state of the countries he flew over: Albania, Greece, Turkey, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Oman and India.