Rajapaksa in audience with the pope
Statement says meeting was 'cordial,' focused on reconciliation
Pope Benedict XVI and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed their hope during a private meeting on June 8 that a “global joint solution” could be found to the issues facing a country still recovering from decades of civil war. According to a statement by the Holy See’s press office, the 10-minute meeting was “cordial” and offered a chance for both parties to illustrate the “steps taken to favor socioeconomic development and reconciliation among the communities hit by the long internal conflict which has affected the country.” Bandula Jayasekara, a spokesman for Rajapaksa, said in a press statement that the president told Pope Benedict that there were no religious conflicts in Sri Lanka, and that the Buddhists in the country were tolerant. He added that Rajapaksa made a formal invitation to the pope to visit the country. Rajapaksa’s audience with the pontiff comes at a time of high tension in Sri Lanka over the aftermath of the president’s victorious campaign in 2009 that ended a three-decade war against the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam. Bishop Rayappu Joseph, head of the northern diocese of Mannar, has faced criticism from Buddhist groups and a Sri Lankan cabinet minister for asking that an “independent international body” investigate allegations of war crimes committed by the government in a letter sent to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. On March 22, the council approved a US-sponsored resolution calling on the Sri Lankan government to reopen a public inquiry on human rights abuses. Pope Benedict and President Rajapaksa emphasized during their meeting how “the Catholic Church, which makes an important contribution to the life of the country with her religious witness and educational, healthcare and social assistance activities, will continue to commit herself to the common good, reciprocal understanding and the integral development of all citizens,” the Holy See’s statement said. Following his audience with the pope, Rajapaksa met Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.