Religious freedom must be central to Sri Lanka’s future, Pope Francis urges on his arrival in the capital, Colombo.

In his arrival speech at Colombo’s airport, he said that followers of various religious traditions “have an essential role to play” in the process of the country’s reconciliation and rebuilding, adding: “For that process to succeed, all members of society must work together; all must have a voice. All must be free to express their concerns, needs, aspirations and fears”.

The 37-year-long civil war between troops and Tamil separatists left an estimated 100,000 dead, with both sides committing rights atrocities towards the end of the conflict.

In mostly Buddhist Sri Lanka Catholics number about six per cent of the 20-million-strong population, but Catholicism is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic groups.

The country’s new president, Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected only days before the Pope arrived, has pledged to protect religious freedoms and promised a new culture of tolerance on the island.

Sources: SCMPRadio Vatican