Pope Francis begins papal visit with speech delivered in English at Colombo airport

Pope Francis has called for “reconciliation and rebuilding” in Sri Lanka as he arrived in the country this morning to begin his six-day visit to South Asia.

In reference to the civil war between the minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese which lasted from 1983 to 2009, the Pope said: “Sri Lanka for many years knew the horrors of civil strife, and is now seeking to consolidate peace and to heal the scars of those years.

“I am convinced that the followers of the various religious traditions have an essential role to play in the delicate process of reconciliation and rebuilding which is taking place in this country. For that process to succeed, all members of society must work together. All must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, their needs, their aspirations and their fears.”

He added: “The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity.”

Pope Francis made his comments during a speech which he delivered in English at an arrival ceremony at Colombo airport shortly after 9am. The Pope was welcomed by Sri Lanka’s newly-installed President Maithripala Sirisena and the ceremony involved a 21 gun salute, singing and a procession of elephants.

“The great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis passes elephants on the way to Colombo city centre (PA)

Pope Francis passes elephants on the way to Colombo city centre (PA)

Thousands of people lined the streets from Colombo airport to the capital’s city centre to welcome Francis to Sri Lanka. The Pope greeted the crowds as he was driven into Colombo from an open-sided Popemobile. Due to delays on this journey into Colombo, Pope Francis’ planned meeting with Sri Lanka’s bishops at the Archbishop’s House in Colombo has been cancelled, according to reports.

As part of his trip to South Asia, the pontiff will also travel to the Philippines, where he will celebrate an open air mass on Sunday, with up to seven million people expected to attend.

For the full schedule of Pope Francis’ papal visit go here.