As he lands in Sri Lanka, pope stresses dialogue, encounter

Pope Francis kicked off the second Asian trip of his pontificate Jan. 12 when he departed for Sri Lanka, where he was scheduled to stay for two days, followed by a trip to the Philippines.

As we go to press for this week’s issue, the pope’s trip is just beginning, but we do have some coverage in our Page 3 “In Brief” section. We will have full coverage of the pope’s pastoral visit in next week’s issue.

In the short time he has been on the ground, however, Pope Francis has made it clear that, as during his other international jaunts, he will make the most of every moment.

According to reports from Vatican Radio, the pope was met with a “thunderous welcome,” including a greeting by the head of state and other dignitaries, children dressed in traditional attire waving miniature Vatican and Sri Lankan flags, dancers, singers, a 21-gun salute, and even some colorfully vested elephants.

In his first address in Colombo, Pope Francis spoke to an ecumenical and interreligious gathering, including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, during which he laid the groundwork for a productive time of encounter.

“I wish to reaffirm the Church’s sincere respect for you, your traditions and beliefs,” the pope said. “It is in this spirit of respect that the Catholic Church desires to cooperate with you, and with all people of good will, in seeking the welfare of all Sri Lankans. I hope that my visit will help to encourage and deepen the various forms of interreligious and ecumenical cooperation which have been undertaken in recent years.”

The pope’s visit to Sri Lanka comes six years after the end of the country’s 26-year civil war, during which the warring parties failed repeatedly at attempts of the type of dialogue and encounter for which Pope Francis champions.

Dialogue, the pope told the religious leaders, is “essential if we are to know, understand and respect one another.”

He continued: “But, as experience has shown, for such dialogue and encounter to be effective, it must be grounded in a full and forthright presentation of our respective convictions. Certainly, such dialogue will accentuate how varied our beliefs, traditions and practices are. But if we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common. New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and indeed friendship.”

Pope Francis’ words ring true not only for conflict in Sri Lanka, but around the world, especially in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month.

While hugely tragic, the violence may be the spark needed for France and Europe to ignite much-needed conversations on religion and society, as outlined this week by French Catholic commentator Jean Duchesne (Page 5). I’d be interested in hearing what you think.