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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pope Tries to Make Amends With Buddhists in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO -- A weary Pope John Paul II, saying he had only peace in his heart, arrived in mainly Buddhist and war-weary Sri Lanka on Friday and at once tried to make amends with Buddhists who accuse him of insulting their religion.


"I come as a friend from Rome," the Pope said in a halting speech in the office of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the start of his 24-hour visit to the island off the coast of India. "I come as a pilgrim of goodwill, with nothing but peace in my heart," he said.


Despite his hip-replacement surgery last year, he has shrugged off concerns about his health. However, he has clearly shown signs of exhaustion on this tour, which has already taken him to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia.


The Pope's first visit to this island nation was marred even before it began over comments about their religion in the pontiff's recent book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope."


Religious leaders of Sri Lanka's predominantly Buddhist population have said the Pope's book insulted them in passages where he says some aspects of Buddhism are negative and atheistic.


Buddhist leaders, who demanded an apology from the Pope, said they were dropping that demand, and instead wanted the written remarks withdrawn. They plan to boycott the Pope's meeting with leaders of other faiths on Saturday.


He stopped short of an apology, saying he wanted his visit to be a sign of profound esteem for all Sri Lankans. "In particular I express my highest regard for the followers of Buddhism,"


The pontiff also called for an end to the ethnic war between Tamil minority guerrillas and government troops.


The main purpose of the Pope's visit to Sri Lanka, which is only about 7 percent Catholic, is the beatification Saturday of Father Joseph Vaz, a Goanese missionary who worked among the island's Catholics in the 17th century.