"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion," he said.
The Pope also denounced the abuse of religion, saying "genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all."
He prayed that St. Joseph's example might confirm Christians in their faith and contribute to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Although Sri Lanka is a mostly Buddhist country, with Christians accounting for just eight percent of its 20.4 million people, Pope Francis is the third Pope to visit the country. Pope Paul VI made a visit in 1970. Pope St. John Paul II visited Sri Lanka 20 years ago and beatified Joseph Vaz during his January 1995 visit.
The Thursday Mass followed a Wednesday arrival ceremony involving a massive welcome for the pontiff. Military groups marched in formation for the welcome ceremony, while forty elephants and their riders were among the thousands of people who greeted the Pope as he was through the streets of Colombo.
After his arrival, Pope Francis canceled a scheduled meeting with the Sri Lankan bishops amid delays in arriving at the apostolic nunciature in the country.
After his Sri Lankan visit, the Pope will fly to the Philippines, which he will visit through Jan. 19.
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