Sri Lanka welcomed Pope Francis with dances, music, flowers and...elephants! He was there from January 12 to 15.
The trip's main theme was reconciliation and the key role religion plays in building peace.
For more than 25 years, this island suffered a civil war. The two main protagonists were the Buddhist Government on one side and and Hindu rebels, on the other.
"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.”
Pope Francis also stood for the right of every citizen to "have voice” in the reconciliation process.
"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.”
Roughly 70% of Sri Lanka's population is Buddhist. Christians, represent about seven percent. Pope Francis highlighted that all religions must work together to build peace, without rejecting their identity.
"It is my hope that inter-religious 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. If we are honest in presenting our convictions, we will be able to see more clearly what we hold in common.”
Throughout his three day visit, the Pope highlighted that religion should not be used to justify violence. Rather, just the opposite.
"For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war.”
The visit's most anticipated moment was the canonization ceremony of Joseph Vaz, who became Sri Lanka's first Saint. He lived at a time when Catholics were actively persecuted in Sri Lanka.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right.”
He spoke of reconciliation once more at the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu. He talked about the thousands of people who took refuge at that Shrine during Sri Lanka's civil war. He said repentance, leads to forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation.
"Yet only when we come to understand, in the light of the Cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance.”
This visit marks the fourth time a Pope visits the country. Paul VI went there in 1970. After him, John Paul II traveled twice to the island, in 1981 and then again in 1995.