Pope Francis is greeted as he arrives at the Colombo airport, January 13, 2015.
Pope Francis is greeted as he arrives at the Colombo airport, January 13, 2015.

Pope Francis has highlighted the need for "justice, healing and unity" in Sri Lanka, where he arrived Tuesday for the start of a week-long trip to Asia.

The pope spoke at Bandaranaike international airport in Colombo, saying Sri Lanka needs to pursue the “truth” of what happened during its long civil war, and rebuilding must include a respect for human rights and "the full inclusion of each member of society."

Pope Francis Travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippi
Pope Francis travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

The pope was greeted by newly inaugurated President Maithripala Sirisena, who has promised an independent domestic inquiry into wartime abuses.

Fighting between the mainly Hindu Tamils and the and mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority ended in 2009. Estimates put death toll from the final army assault against Tamils at up to 40,000 civilians.

The 78-year-old pontiff postponed a meeting with Sri Lankan bishops after the journey from the airport, in an open top car under hot sun, took longer than expected.

About 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists. Hindus make up about 13 percent and Muslims 10 percent. Catholics are at about 7 percent, split between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils.

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Next stop - Philippines

From Sri Lanka, where he will spend two days, Pope Francis will head to the Philippines. On Wednesday, he will hold a seaside mass, in the capital, Colombo, and canonize the country's first saint, 17th century missionary Joseph Vaz. Millions of people are expected to attend the outdoor service.

The visit to Asia is the pope's second to the region since he began his papacy, and is part of the Church's outreach to developing nations.

The trip to the Philippines, Asia's only majority Roman Catholic nation, comes 20 years after the last papal visit to the country, by John Paul II.

While in the Philippines, Pope Francis will also meet with victims of the devastating 2013 Typhoon Haiyan.

The Vatican says the pope will speak throughout his Asia trip on themes of the environment, poverty and family.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.