COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The pontiff of the Roman Catholic religion visited a Buddhist temple in the capital of Sri Lanka on Wednesday at the invitation of the head of a prominent Buddhist organization in the country.
Francis made a last minute stop to the Agrashravaka Temple at the bidding of head monk Banagala Upatissa, who also leads the Mahabodi Society. Upatissa had met the pontiff at the airport upon his arrival in the country and extended the invitation.
During the roughly 20-minute visit to the Buddhist temple, Francis listened as the monks chanted and prayed, and also opened a container of relics that pertain to two of the disciples of Buddha to show them to the pontiff. The relics are customarily opened and placed on display once a year, and followers of the Buddhist religion will line up for days to catch sight of them.
Vatican spokemen state that Francis did not pray with the monks, but did take off his shoes as required.
“There was not a time of silence in this sense,” Joseph Lombardi told reporters. “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.”
A statue of Buddha was also present in the room, and in addition to receiving gifts from the monks during his visit, the pontiff stood for group photographs with those at the temple.
Francis becomes the second pope in the history of Roman Catholicism to visit a Buddhist temple. John Paul II had done so in 1984 during a trip to Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country. Sri Lanka is approximately 70 percent Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and 7 percent Roman Catholic.
The visit takes place just two months after the pontiff visited the Blue Mosque in Turkey, expressing reverence during a moment of prayer observed by the nation’s grand mufti, who led him on a tour of the Islamic facility.
But some are concerned about these ongoing developments, and state that the pope’s actions are unbiblical.
“If [Roman Catholics] were Christians, they would heed the Scriptures that say don’t yoke together with unbelievers,” Erick Rothbeck of Scriptural Truth for Roman Catholics told Christian News Network. “What fellowship hath the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of darkness?”
“The whole objective of the pope going around and associating with all these different false religions is to have ecumenical unity between them,” he continued. “It’s just one more sign of the last days that Jesus is coming soon, because this is the culmination, I believe, of the one world church of the antichrist. In order for that to come together, these things have to take place.”
Rothbeck said that while he believes these developments point to the soon-coming return of Christ, he also is saddened for those who are walking what the Bible calls the wide path to destruction.
“It just grieves your heart,” he stated. “The Bible says that in the last days they won’t listen to sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and they shall turn their ears from the truth and shall be turned to fables.”
Rothbeck explained that the Christian response to reports of these occurrences should be to work all the more to spread the gospel.
“[H]ow much more should we be soldiers for Christ and earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints and tell others about the true one and only apostolic gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone,” he said. “The Bible says that a time is coming when the word of God will be so scarce that it will be like a starvation because so few churches are actually presenting the gospel. They’re more worried about the ecumenical movement—being one together. … And it’s those that are earnestly contending for the faith that will be blessed in the sight of God.”