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.
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…