Sri Lanka gets its first Catholic saint, pope visits Buddhist temple

Pope Francis gestures in blessing during a mass in Colombo, January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

(Reuters) – Pope Francis paid a surprise visit to a Buddhist temple on Wednesday, capping a trip to Sri Lanka where he told huge crowds that religions must unite to heal the country’s war wounds.

The only other visit by a pope to a Buddhist temple was made by Pope John Paul during a trip to Thailand in 1984.

Pope Francis waves to Catholic faithful as he arrives to lead mass in ColomboPope Francis waves to Catholic faithful as he arrives to lead mass in Colombo, January 14, 2015. Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the pope briefly stopped at Colombo’s Mahabodhi temple to meet Banagila Upatissa, a Buddhist leader who had invited him when they met on Tuesday at an inter-religious meeting.

“The pope listened with great respect” as the monks were singing and praying, Lombardi said. He said that in honor of the occasion, the monks opened a container holding Buddhist relics that is normally unsealed only once a year…

…During his two-day trip to Sri Lanka – which is about 70 percent Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and 7 percent Catholic – the pope has stressed the role of religion to help reconciliation after the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 and killed up to 100,000 people.

Earlier, Francis gave Sri Lanka its first saint at a seafront Mass for more half a million people in Colombo, calling 17th century missionary Joseph Vaz a model of reconciliation…