READ POPE'S SPEECH:
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this meeting which brings together, among
others, the four largest religious communities integral to the life of Sri Lanka: Buddhism,
Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. I thank you for your presence and for your warm welcome.
I also thank those who have offered prayers and blessings, and in a particular way I express my
gratitude to Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera and to the Venerable Vigithasiri Niyangoda Thero
for their kind words.
I have come to Sri Lanka in the footsteps of my predecessors Popes Paul VI and John Paul
II to demonstrate the great love and concern which the Catholic Church has for Sri Lanka. It is
a particular grace for me to visit the Catholic community here, to confirm them in their Christian
faith, to pray with them and to share their joys and sufferings. It is equally a grace to be with all
of you, men and women of these great religious traditions, who share with us a desire for
wisdom, truth and holiness.
At the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church declared her deep and abiding respect
for other religions. She stated that she "rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these
religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and
doctrines” (Nostra Aetate, 2). For my part, I wish to reaffirm the Church’s sincere respect for
you, your traditions and beliefs.
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.
These praiseworthy initiatives have provided opportunities for dialogue, which is essential
if we are to know, understand and respect one another. 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.
Such positive developments in interreligious and ecumenical relations take on a particular
significance and urgency in Sri Lanka. For too many years the men and women of this country
have been victims of civil strife and violence. What is needed now is healing and unity, not
further conflict and division. Surely the fostering of healing and unity is a noble task which is
incumbent upon all who have at heart the good of the nation, and indeed the whole human
family. It is my hope that interreligious and ecumenical cooperation will demonstrate that men
and women do not have to forsake their identity, whether ethnic or religious, in order to live in
harmony with their brothers and sisters.
How many ways there are for the followers of the different religions to carry out this service!
How many are the needs that must be tended to with the healing balm of fraternal solidarity! I
think in particular of the material and spiritual needs of the poor, the destitute, those who yearn
for a word of consolation and hope. Here I think too of the many families who continue to
mourn the loss of their loved ones.
Above all, at this moment of your nation’s history, how many people of good will are
seeking to rebuild the moral foundations of society as a whole? May the growing spirit of
cooperation between the leaders of the various religious communities find expression in a
commitment to put reconciliation among all Sri Lankans at the heart of every effort to renew
society and its institutions.
For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be
abused in the cause of violence and war. We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our
communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to
denounce acts of violence when they are committed.
Dear friends, I thank you once again for your generous welcome and your attention. May
this fraternal encounter confirm all of us in our efforts to live in harmony and to spread the
blessings of peace.