February 8, 2014 / 5:23 PM / 5 years ago

Pope Francis may visit Sri Lanka on Asia trip

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Saturday told Sri Lankans living in Italy that he hoped to take up an invitation to visit their country, where the wounds of civil war still needed to heal.

Pope Francis attends during an audience with the Sri Lankan community in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican February 8, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The Pope met a group of Sri Lankan pilgrims, led by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, who proffered the invitation.

He responded: “I thank Cardinal Ranjith for the invitation to visit Sri Lanka. I welcome this invitation and I think the Lord will grant us the grace.”

He also spoke of the need to heal wounds from Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, which ended in 2009.

“Unfortunately, many tears have been shed in recent years, on account of the internal conflict which caused so many victims and so much damage,” Francis said, according to comments released by the Vatican.

“It is not easy, I know, to heal the wounds and cooperate with yesterday’s enemy to build tomorrow together, but it is the only path that gives hope for the future, hope for development and hope for peace.”

An estimated 6 percent of the country’s population are Roman Catholic.

The Vatican sees Asia as a region of growth for Catholicism. It has previously indicated that Francis is planning to visit South Korea this summer in what would be his first visit to the Asian continent.

The probability of this visit was bolstered on Saturday, when the Vatican announced Francis had approved 124 Koreans killed for their faith in past centuries to be officially recognized as martyrs, a step on the way to sainthood.

It was unclear whether Francis would visit South Korea and Sri Lanka on a single trip to the region. The Vatican previously said possible visits to the Philippines and Sri Lanka would not take place in 2014.

Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; Editing by Stephen Powell

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