Pope Francis makes surprise visit to Buddhist temple

Pope Francis led mass for half a million people in Colombo, Sri Lanka.(Photo: Reuters)

The Pope paid an impromptu visit to a Buddhist temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka Wednesday evening.

According to Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope made a brief stop at the Mahabodhi temple in Sri Lanka's capital city to meet Banagila Upatissa, one of the Buddhist leaders who had welcomed the Holy Father when he arrived in the country on Tuesday and who had invited him to an inter-religious meeting.

Reuters reports that during the unscheduled visit, Pope Francis was ushered to a room with a statue of the Buddha, where he spoke with some monks.

In honour of the Pope, the monks showed him Buddhist relics kept in a jar that is normally opened only once a year.

The 78-year-old pontiff, who "wanted to demonstrate his friendship and positive attitude" toward Buddhists, also "listened with great respect" as the monks sang and prayed during his roughly 20-minute stay in the temple.

According to Crux, Lombardi shared that the Pope decided to drop by the temple after returning from a Marian sanctuary in northern Sri Lanka.

The Buddhist temple visit by Pope Francis, who advocates inter-religious dialogue and has previously visited mosques in Istanbul and Jerusalem, was only the second made by a head of the Roman Catholic Church. The late Pope John Paul II made a similar stop when he visited a Buddhist centre in Thailand in 1984.

During his two-day stay in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, the Pope canonised the nation's first saint and emphasised how religion can lead to reconciliation and healing after the country's civil war that lasted 26 years and claimed 100,000 lives.

The Pope is now in Manila, Philippines, where he was met by a rapturous crowd. He will stay in the largely Catholic country for five days, during which he will pay a visit to the victims of the Super Typhoon Haiyan that devastated parts of the country and killed over 7,000 in 2013.