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Pope makes unscheduled stop at Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka

Pope Francis greets Buddhist monks at the Agrashravaka temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital (AP Photo/Osservatore Romano/pool)

Pope Francis changed his schedule at the last minute earlier today to visit a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka’s capital where relics were being put on display.

The opening of a casket containing relics of disciples of the Buddha is a key event in the Buddhist calendar. People line up for days to pay homage to the relics.

A Vatican spokesman said the Pope did not pray during his visit but listened respectfully while monks chanted.

Banagala Upatissa, head monk at the Agrashravaka temple, told the Associated Press that allowing the Pope to witness the event was “the highest honour and respect we can offer to His Holiness”.

Pope Francis is the second pope to visit a Buddhist temple. St John Paul II became the first to do so during his trip to Thailand in 1984.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the visit was brief. “There was not a time of silence in this sense,” he told reporters, referring to prayer. “I can only say the Pope was listening with great respect, and listening also to the prayer of the monk showing the relics and this was all.”