14 January 2015
Last updated at 03:33
Pope Francis arrived early on Wednesday for the Mass in Colombo
Huge crowds have gathered in the Sri Lankan capital for Pope Francis to celebrate a Mass at which he will canonise the nation’s first saint.
The Pope will canonise 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz at the sea-front service in Colombo.
It is the first papal visit since the end of the war in 2009 that saw the army and rebels accused of atrocities.
On Tuesday, the Pontiff called for the “pursuit of truth” to promote “justice, healing and unity” after years of war.
Last week Sri Lankans elected a new president, Maithripala Sirisena, ending 10 years under Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Pope Francis is in Asia on a six-day tour. He will next travel to the Philippines.
On Wednesday the leader of the Catholic Church arrived early for the Mass, informally greeting worshippers.
The man to be canonised, Joseph Vaz, was an Indian-born missionary who served Sri Lanka’s Catholic community, who were persecuted by Dutch colonists.
About one million people are expected at the service, with many lining up from Tuesday to secure a place.
Later Pope Francis will speak at prayers in Madhu in the north – a region which saw some of the fiercest fighting of the 26-year war.
The conflict, arising from ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority, ended in 2009 when the army defeated separatist Tamil rebels. The United Nations said both sides committed atrocities against civilians.
The government consistently denied allegations that it was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of civilians in the final phase of that war. Last year the UN approved an inquiry into alleged war crimes.
Crowds started to gather more than 24 hours in advance for the sea-front service
On Tuesday, some families had already arrived at the site of the Mass to choose their spot
Pope Francis met leaders from many religious groups on Tuesday
Just over 7% of Sri Lanka’s population are Christian, mostly Catholic – but they include both Sinhalese and Tamils. About 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, with 13% Hindus and 10% Muslims.
The last papal visit was 20 years ago, when Pope John Paul II was boycotted by Buddhist leaders. But on Tuesday, Pope Francis met a group of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders, urging reconciliation.
“For the sake of peace, religious belief must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war,” he said.
“We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to denounce acts of violence when they are committed.”
His visit comes amid change in Sri Lanka, where Maithripala Sirisena took office as president on Friday, replacing Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Critics said Mr Rajapaksa’s leadership had been marred by increasing corruption and authoritarianism.
There have been early signs of reform under the new leader, but it is not yet clear if his approach to addressing the legacy of the war will differ from his predecessor, who is seen as a hero by many Sri Lankans for ending the conflict.