Newspaper article International New York Times

Pope Urges Healing in Sri Lanka

Newspaper article International New York Times

Pope Urges Healing in Sri Lanka

Article excerpt

In his first speech in the country, Francis said leaders of major religions had a role to play in healing the wounds from the civil war that ended in 2009.

Pope Francis arrived in this capital city on Tuesday and said Sri Lanka must address the wounds from the civil war that convulsed it for more than 25 years.

"The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening new wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity," Francis said in a speech at the international airport.

He said leaders of major religions had a role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation after the conflict ended in 2009, adding, "I have come to meet, encourage and pray with the Catholic people of this island."

The pope's visit came just days after Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered a surprising defeat in seeking another term as president. The election was seen in part as a referendum on Mr. Rajapaksa's growing control over the island's politics and his refusal to address international concerns about postwar reconciliation. Ethnic Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka's north and east voted overwhelmingly for Maithripala Sirisena.

Given its timing, Francis' tour has distinct political overtones. He was initially invited by Mr. Rajapaksa, whose campaign suggested that the pope's acceptance of his invitation was akin to an endorsement. Posters and banners displayed in predominantly Catholic regions before the election showed pictures of both the president and the pope. "With His Holiness' blessings -- you will be our president," one poster read.

Political concerns led some prominent Catholics to urge Francis to postpone his trip. But Mr. Rajapaksa's political opponents were eager to bask in the glow of Francis' visit once they emerged triumphant. The pope was greeted at the airport by Mr. Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. …

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