Shortly after arriving in Sri Lanka, Pope Francis attended an Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering. Below you will find the Holy Father's full address during the meeting, along with a welcoming address, given by Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera OSB, chairperson of the Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering.
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
Greeting by Bishop Cletus Chandrasiri Perera OSB,
Chairperson, Organizing Committee
In all humility, I stand before you as the Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of this event to extend a very warm and cordial welcome to all those who are present, in response to our invitation, at this Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering, held in the context of the pilgrimage of our Holy Father Pope Francis to Sri Lanka.
On behalf of all present here, it is my greatest honor and privilege to welcome Your Holiness, the Universal Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church into this distinguished gathering, organized in your honor.
Most Holy Father, in reality, Sri Lanka is a multi-religious society, the vast majority of the people being the adherents of Buddhism. It is a singular honor and a joy, granted to all of us to welcome Your Holiness into this Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering this evening, to greet Your Holiness and to be greeted and blessed by Your Holiness. It is no doubt a sacred and unique event which goes down in the history of Sri Lanka, and particularly in the history of the Catholic Church.
Most Holy Father, all right-thinking people clearly observe that, within the short period of your Pontificate, you have impressed the world society and have captured the hearts of many millions of people of various religious and ethnic denominations. I dare say, you have challenged us by your unassuming, untriumphalistic, simple and humble life style, emulating the example of Jesus Christ our loving Saviour, of many saints and particularly of your own patron saint, St Francis of Assisi. It is indeed a singular grace and a privilege to have Your Holiness, present with us on this historical occasion.
Secondly, I wish to extend respectfully a very cordial and warm welcome to His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio for Sri lanka, to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Colombo, Their Excellencies the Archbishops and the Bishops, the Most Reverend Heads of the Churches of the National Christian Council and all the Clergy and Religious present here.
Next I wish to extend very respectful and cordial welcome to the most Venerable Mahanayake Theros of various Nikayas, the Most Reverend Anunayake Theros, the Most Reverend Sanganayake Theros, the members of the Maha Sangha, the Leadership and representatives of the Hindu and Islam Religions and all the others who are present here.
We all are indeed honored and edified by your graceful presence. We thank you very sincerely for your positive response to our invitation to participate in this very important gathering, held in honour of our Holy Father Pope Francis in the context of his pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. May God bless you all.
Address of His Holiness Pope Francis
Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering
Colombo, Bandaranaike Memorial Conference Hall
January 13, 2015
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.