President Maithripala Sirisena's Address at Welcoming Ceremony for Pope Francis

«Your Holiness, this visit to Sri Lanka is of special significance, as my government is progressing on promoting dialogue and reconciliation amongst the people, as a means of consolidating the peace dividend.»

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Here is the address given by H.E. Maithripala Sirisena, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the Welcoming Ceremony for Pope Francis at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.

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Your Holiness,
Secretary of State and Members of the Holy See Delegation
Hon. Prime Minister
Honourable Cabinet Ministers & Members of Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a joyous and momentous occasion to welcome Your Holiness to Sri Lanka, on behalf of my Government and people. It is indeed an honour that Your Holiness has commenced this apostolic journey to Asia with a visit to Sri Lanka.

Your visit is also particularly significant to me personally, as I have been elected to the office of President only few days ago and the visit of Your Holiness gives me an opportunity to receive your blessings as I commence my term of office.

It is exactly 20 years ago that Pope John Paul II was welcomed to this very soil. At that juncture Sri Lanka was embroiled in anhilating terrorism, following the mayhem caused by the terrorists in the daily lives of the people. Your Holiness comes today to a renewed Sri Lanka, where peace and prosperity prevail in all regions of the Island, with the people enjoying its dividends, while living with dignity. Undoubtedly the initiatives have helped to address the challenge of poverty. The special priority Your Holiness attaches to the eradication of poverty, and global efforts to reduce the economic disparity between the rich and poor, are noteworthy.

Your Holiness, this visit to Sri Lanka is of special significance, as my government is progressing on promoting dialogue and reconciliation amongst the people, as a means of consolidating the peace dividend. We are a people who believe in religious tolerance and co-existence based on our centuries old spiritual heritage. The significant contribution that Your Holiness is making to bring about peace and reconciliation among nations and communities is gratifying, and this visit will contribute to Sri Lanka’s domestic efforts.

Your Holiness, I am extremely pleased that during this visit you will canonize Sri Lanka’s first Saint, Blessed Joseph Vaz, a Catholic missionary from Goa in India, who made a significant contribution to the growth of the Catholic faith in this country. This canonization is indeed an honour for the people of Sri Lanka, and those of the region, particularly of the Catholic faith.

Your Holiness, our two countries have played a significant role in fostering two of the world’s major religious faiths Christianity and Buddhism. In the Holy Gospel the Lord Jesus Christ preached to his followers “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Likewise Lord Buddha preached that “Hatred is not appeased in this world by hatred, but by loving-kindness. Evil must be conquered by goodness” (Dhammapada). These eternal teachings embody the shared values in Christianity and Buddhism which the people of my country profess. They remind us that a significant contribution can be made through inter religious dialogue to social harmony and solidarity, which was also the message of Your Holiness for the “World Day of Peace”, last week.

On behalf of the Government and people of Sri Lanka I wish you a most fruitful and memorable visit. I look forward to our discussions with a view to further consolidating and strengthening the relations between Sri Lanka and the Holy See.

I seek the blessings of Your Holiness on the people of Sri Lanka, both in the country and those living abroad, and request your prayers for the county’s peace, progress, and prosperity.

I thank you.

[Text courtesy of Il Sismografo]
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