The Pope tries to placate Buddhists

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The Independent Online
Vatican City - The Pope yesterday expressed "profound respect" for Buddhism as he sought to defuse a row threatening to mar his visit to Sri Lanka on the forthcoming tour of Asia and Australia. Speaking at his weekly general audience, he told pil grims he had "profound respect and sincere esteem" for the Buddhist religion.

Some Buddhists in Sri Lanka, which the Pope will visit on Friday next week, have demanded an apology and have threatened to boycott the visit because of a comment in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope that Buddhism was "in large measure an `atheistic' system".

The Pope said: "In the course of my journey I will have the chance to meet representatives of various religions, including noted Buddhists. I happily take this opportunity to assure followers of the Buddhist religion of my profound respect and sincere esteem."

Gallage Punyawardena, spokesman for the Federation of Buddhist Organisations, said in Colombo: "It is not enough. What we want is an apology and for the Pope to withdraw what he has written in his book. We will continue with our boycott of his visit unless he does this."

Unidentified attackers set fire to a shrine room and damaged statues of the Buddha at a temple outside the Sri Lankan capital Colombo yesterday, a day after a fire at a Roman Catholic church. Police said the events were not connected to anger over the Papal visit.

The Pope will arrive in Sri Lanka after visiting the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia on an 11-day trip covering 21,000 miles.

The tour - his 63rd visit outside Italy - will test the 74-year-old Pontiff's determination to bring his message personally to Catholics despite two years of health problems. He is still recovering from a broken leg that refuses to mend. The duration of the tour is the longest he has undertaken since 1989.

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