During his ad limina address Saturday, Pope Francis urged the bishops of Sri Lanka to continue their role in reconciliation of the nation, which emerged in 2009 from a 26-year civil war.
“Our vocation is to be a ‘leaven in the midst of humanity’,” Pope Francis said May 3. “Sri Lanka particularly needs this leaven.”
“After many years of fighting and bloodshed, the war in your country has finally ended … though the war has ended, you rightly note that much work needs to be done to promote reconciliation, to respect the human rights of all the people and to overcome the ethnic tensions that remain.”
“May your communities, steadfast in the faith, remain close to those who still mourn and suffer the lasting effects of war,” he added.
The Pope spoke to the Sri Lankan bishops during their ad limina meeting – a routine meeting between the Pope and the bishops of different countries.
From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka was engaged in a civil war which largely divided the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil ethnic minority.
“As you have expressed,” Pope Francis said, “the Catholics of Sri Lanka wish to contribute, together with the various elements of society, to the work of reconciliation and rebuilding.”
He highlighted unity as a particularly useful contribution, saying the Church is “uniquely positioned to provide a living image of unity in the faith as she is blessed to count both Sinhalese and Tamil among her number.”
“In parishes and schools, in social programmes and other institutions of the Church, Sinhalese and Tamil find opportunities to live, study, work and worship together. Through these same entities, especially through parishes and missions, you also know intimately the concerns and fears of the people, particularly how they can be marginalized and distrust one another. The faithful … can provide an atmosphere of dialogue that seeks to construct a more just and equitable society.”
The Pope also congratulated the Church in Sri Lanka on its charitable work, saying the “prophetic witness of service and compassion … shows that the poor must not be forgotten nor inequality permitted to grow.”
“Your ministry and outreach must work for the inclusion of all in society.”
“Sri Lanka is a country not only of rich ethnic diversity, but also of various religious traditions,” he noted.
More than 70 percent of the 20.4 million people in Sri Lanka are Buddhists. Hindus make up 12 percent, Muslims 10 percent, and Christians an estimated 8 percent of the population.
Pope Francis said this diversity “highlights the importance of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue for fostering mutual knowledge and enrichment.”
The Church’s efforts at dialogue in Sri Lanka “allow the Church to collaborate more easily with others in securing a lasting peace, and ensure the Church’s freedom in pursuing her proper ends,” the Pope told the nation’s bishops.
He lamented, however, a rise of religious extremists “promoting a false sense of national unity based on a single religious identity,” who act with intimidation and violence.
“Though these tensions may threaten interreligious and ecumenical relations, the Church in Sri Lanka must remain steadfast in seeking partners in peace and interlocutors in dialogue.”
Pope Francis commended the bishops on the rich number of priestly vocations, and urged that they be “attentive to their human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation, not only in their years of seminary training, but also throughout their lives of generous service.”
“Be true fathers to them, attentive to their needs and present in their lives, recognizing that they often minister in difficult situations and with limited resources. With you, I thank them for their fidelity and witness, as I call them to ever greater holiness through prayer and daily conversion.”
Concluding his address, the Bishop of Rome said, “I appreciate your efforts to minister to the family,” noting that “the forthcoming Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will discuss the family and seek ever new and creative ways in which the Church can support these domestic churches.”
The continuing challenges facing Sri Lankan families, he noted, include displacement, death in the civil war, and emigration.
“When we are attentive to our families and their needs, when we understand their difficulties and hopes, we strengthen the Church’s witness and proclamation of the Gospel. Particularly by supporting marital love and fidelity, we help the faithful to live their vocation freely and joyfully, and we open new generations to the life of Christ and his Church.”
“Your efforts in support of the family assist not only the Church, but aid Sri Lankan society as a whole, especially in its efforts for reconciliation and unity. I urge you, therefore, to be ever vigilant and to work with governmental authorities and other religious leaders to ensure that the dignity and primacy of the family is upheld.”
Pope Francis ended, saying that “with these sentiments, my dear Brothers, I entrust you to the intercession of Our Lady of Lanka, as I willingly extend my Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the beloved priests, consecrated men and women, and lay people of Sri Lanka.”