Vatican City, 3 May 2014 (VIS) – The contribution of the Catholic Church to national reconciliation and the reconstruction of civil society, the importance of interreligious dialogue as a bulwark against an extremism that promotes a false sense of national unity based on a single religious identity, and the protection of the family were the central themes of Pope Francis' address to the bishops of Sri Lanka at the end of their five-yearly “ad limina” visit.
After many years of conflict and bloodshed, the war in Sri Lanka has finally come to an end and its inhabitants now hope to rebuild their lives and communities. The bishops have dedicated themselves to this task, as may be seen by their pastoral letter “Towards Reconciliation and Rebuilding of our Nation” in which, as well as sharing in the tribulations of the people, they note that much work remains to be done to ensure respect for human rights and to overcome ethnic tensions. The Pope joins with them in offering a word of consolation to “all those who lost loved ones during the war and remain uncertain as to their fate”, and invites communities, “steadfast in the faith, to remain close to those who still mourn and suffer the lasting effects of war”.
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, which has both Sinhalese and Tamil among her members, is therefore in a unique position to be able to promote unity between these groups, and also knows intimately “the concerns and fears of the people, particularly how they can be marginalised and distrust one another. The faithful, knowledgeable of the issues that cause tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil, can provide an atmosphere of dialogue that seeks to construct a more just and equitable society”.
He continues, “Sri Lanka is a country not only of rich ethnic diversity, but also of various religious traditions; this highlights the importance of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue for fostering mutual knowledge and enrichment. Your efforts in this regard are commendable and bearing fruit. They 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, especially in educating young people in the faith and in witnessing freely to Christian life. Sri Lanka has also seen, however, the rise of religious extremists who, in promoting a false sense of national unity based on a single religious identity, have created tensions through various acts of 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”.
Francis comments on the important work of priests and consecrated persons in transmitting faith and promoting reconciliation and dialogue, and dedicates the final part of his discourse to the family, noting that the war in Sri Lanka has left many families displaced or mourning the death of their members. “Many have lost their employment and so families have been separated as spouses leave their homes to find work. There is also the great challenge and increasing reality of mixed marriages, which require greater attention to preparation and assistance to couples in providing for the faith formation of their children. 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. … 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”.