What an amazing trip this has been so far! Pope Francis in Sri Lanka, has brought together more diverse people, cultures, religions, and languages than you can imagine in just one spot and they are there to see, watch and listen! I stress ‘listen’. Apparently all – the Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus – are open to what the Holy Father has been saying, that is, that rebuilding the nation must be more than building devastated structures. It must include rebuilding devastated hearts and minds and souls. It must put human dignity and the value of the person above all else. Rebuilding must include mutual respect, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice.
The colorful nature of this trip has not been lost on anyone – the gorgeous native dress that one would almost be tempted to call (from a different cultural viewpoint) a costume, the stunning ceremonial attire of the elephants who welcomed the Pope, the local pomp and circumstance – soi much more!
I think that by now, 48 hours into the papal trip, I would have taken 1,000 photos and who knows how many videos!
ITALIAN PRESIDENT RESIGNS, POPE LAUDS “GENEROUS, EXEMPLARY SERVICE” IN TELEGRAM
Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano resigned today, well ahead of the end of his second seven-year term, citing age and health reasons, although he has previously said he would not finish the mandate ending in 2020. He has been president since 2006 and is the only Italian president in the history of the republic to have been elected twice, Napolitano and the Holy Father met on June 8, 2013 when the president paid his first official state visit of his second mandate to the Pope.
From Sri Lanka, the Pope sent a telegram to now former President Napolitano, teling him, “I am spiritually close to you and wish to express to you my sentiments of sincere esteem and keen appreciation for your generous and exemplary service to the Italian nation, performed with authority, loyalty and tireless dedication to the common good. Your enlightened and wise action has contributed to strengthening within the population the ideals of solidarity, unity and harmony, especially in a European and national context marked by considerable difficulties. I invoke divine assistance for you, your wife and your loved ones, with the assurance of your constant remembrance in my prayers.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi now has the task of finding a successor. The Italian news agency ANSA notes that, “with elections in Greece due later this month and the European Central Bank under growing pressure to take unprecedented steps to fight the risk of deflation, Napolitano’s departure adds to an increasingly uncertain climate in the euro zone. Italy is struggling to emerge from years of recession and the government faces a series of hurdles to its economic and constitutional reform agenda.”
JOSEPH VAZ, SRI LANKA’S FIRST SAINT
This morning in Galle Face Green, an urban park in the heart of the financial district of Colombo that can hold up to half a million people, Pope Francis canonized Blessed Joseph Vaz, who was beatified 20 years ago by St. John Paul in the same spot. The park was filled to capacity Wednesday as Sri Lankans and Indians – for St. Joseph was born in India – celebrated the new saint.
Pope Francis toured the area – 5 hectares or 12.5 acres in size, extending to the coast of the Indian Ocean – in the Popemobile, as well as on foot before going to the sacristy where he was greeted by the mayor of Colombo who presented him with the keys to the city.(Reuters photo on news.va)
Sri Lanka’s first saint, Joseph Vaz was born in Goa, India in 1651, the son of Cristovao Vaz and Maria de Miranda, devout Catholics. His father belonged to a prominent Goud Saraswat Brahmin Naik family from Sancoale, and Joseph was baptized on the eighth day at the parish church of St. John the Baptist. He studied Portuguese and Latin, and entered the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. Since Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka, was under the rule of Dutch Calvinists and therefore had no Catholic priests, he moved there secretly, in the guise of a mendicant. He eventually came to the attention of the Dutch authorities, who imprisoned him. He was released in 1869 and obtained permission to preach the Gospel throughout the Buddhist Kingdom of Kandy. He also continued to do so secretly in the area under Dutch occupation until his death in 1711.
The Pope explained that Joseph Vaz, “like countless other missionaries in the history of the Church … responded to the Risen Lord’s command to make disciples of every nation. By his words, but more importantly, by the example of his life, he led the people of this country to the faith which gives us ‘an inheritance among all God’s holy ones’.”
Stating that the new saint “continues to be an example and a teacher for many reasons,” Francis focused on three points: “First, he was an exemplary priest. … He was also an example of patient suffering in the cause of the Gospel, of obedience to our superiors, of loving care for the Church of God. … Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. (photo by ANSA)
Secondly, said the Pope, “the new saint shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace. His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbor; he ministered to those in need, whoever and wherever they were. His example continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka today.
“She gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works. All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation and external compulsion.”
Finally, said Francis, “Saint Joseph gives us an example of missionary zeal. Though he came to Ceylon to minister to the Catholic community, in his evangelical charity he reached out to everyone. Leaving behind his home, his family, the comfort of his familiar surroundings, he responded to the call to go forth, to speak of Christ wherever he was led. Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility.”
At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis gave Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, a reproduction in engraved copper of the “Sannas,” the document by which King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandyin 1694 authorized Fr. Juan Sylveira of the Order of St. Philip Neri and his companions to preach the Gospel and build churches in his kingdom, and the people to convert to Christianity should they wish to do so. The original decree was given to Pope Leo XIII by the then-archbishop of Colombo, Christopher Bonjero O.M.I.
The faithful of Sri Lanka reciprocated by donating $70,000 to Pope Francis for papal charity. (Source: VIS)
POPE FRANCIS VISITS MARIAN SHRINE IN NORTHERN SRI LANKA
This morning, the Holy Father travelled by helicopter from Colombo to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the north of Sri Lanka, an area inhabited predominantly by the Tamil peoplethat has a four-century-old history. In 1544 a number of Christians escaped from the massacres ordered by the King of Jaffna, who feared the expansion of Portuguese influence. They sought refuge in the jungle and built a rudimentary place for prayer with the statue that is now located inside the shrine. In 1583 more Christians, again fleeing from Mannar, began to build churches in nearby areas. The church in Mantai subsequently became the first “home” of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu.
Following the persecution of Catholics by the Dutch, who arrived in Ceylon in 1656, thirty Catholic families seeking refuge journeyed from village to village, taking the statue with them. In 1670 they settled in Maruthamadhu, where the shrine is now located. They were later joined by other Catholics of Portuguese origin, who built the first small church dedicated to Our Lady of Madhu.
The Virgin of Madhu, protectress against snakebites, became well-known throughout the island and, with the arrival of St. Joseph Vaz in 1897, Catholicism began to flourish and Madhu was transformed into a missionary centre. The construction of the current building began in 1872, and the papal legate crowned the statue in 1924 on behalf of Pope Pius XI. The church was consecrated in 1944. (from Sri Lankan papal visit website)
Madhu is a place of prayer that is well-respected and frequented by Catholic faithful and followers of other religions although, during the civil war, it was affected by fighting between Tamil rebels and government forces. The bishops of Sri Lanka managed to ensure that the shrine became a demilitarized zone in order to guarantee the safety of pilgrims and the many refugees who fled there in search of safety during the war. Indeed, since 1990 the 160 hectares (almost 400 acres) of land around the shrine have provided a safe haven to thousands of displaced persons, becoming a refugee camp recognised by both parties in the conflict. In April 2008 the shrine returned to the diocese of Mannar and reopened as a place of worship in December 2010.
More than half a million people awaited the Pope at this Marian sanctuary, praying with him for the consolidation of the peace reached in 2009 following a conflict that had lasted over three decades. Both Tamil and Sinhalese families, who suffered greatly as a result of the hostilities, were present.
“We are in our Mother’s house,” Francis began. “Here she welcomes us into her home. At this shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, every pilgrim can feel at home, for here Mary brings us into the presence of her Son Jesus. Here Sri Lankans, Tamil and Sinhalese alike, come as members of one family. To Mary they commend their joys and sorrows, their hopes and needs. Here, in her home, they feel safe. They know that God is very near; they feel his love; they know the tender mercy of God.
He noted that, “there are families here today that suffered greatly in the long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka. Many people, from north and south alike, were killed in the terrible violence and bloodshed of those years. No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place, or the sad day when the venerable statue of Mary, dating to the arrival of the earliest Christians in Sri Lanka, was taken away from her shrine.
The Holy Father stated that, “Mary never forgot her children on this resplendent island. Just as she never left the side of her Son on the Cross, so she never left the side of her suffering Sri Lankan children. Today we want to thank Our Lady for that presence. In the wake of so much hatred, violence and destruction, we want to thank her for continuing to bring us Jesus, who alone has the power to heal open wounds and to restore peace to broken hearts. …We ask also for the grace to make reparation for our sins and for all the evil which this land has known.”
“It is not easy to do this,” Francis acknowledged. “Yet only when we come to understand, in the light of the Cross, the evil we are capable of, and have even been a part of, can we experience true remorse and true repentance. Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness.”
“Let us ask Mother Mary,” he concluded, “to accompany with her prayers the efforts of Sri Lankans from both Tamil and Sinhalese communities to rebuild the unity which was lost. Just as her statue came back to her shrine of Madhu after the war, so we pray that all her Sri Lankan sons and daughters may now come home to God in a renewed spirit of reconciliation and fellowship.” (Source: VIS)
PAPAL SPOKESMAN ON POSITIVE NATURE OF PAPAL VISIT
Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio, in brief remarks Wednesday to a Vatican Radio colleague in Sri Lanka, said the first day of the papal visit was a very positive surprise for him as he had not expected such a wonderful reception for the Pope. He said the atmosphere with the new president, following the recent peaceful elections in Sri Lanka, is “very positive with expectations of something new in the sense of reconciliation” and the rights of minorities. The Pope, he continued, brings encouragement and inspiration, so that the president is right when he says the visit is also a blessing for him at the very beginning of his mission.
Fr. Lombardi also commented on the inter-religious encounter on Tuesday with a large presence of Buddhist monks who did not attend a similar meeting during the visit of John Paul II to the island twenty years ago. He noted that there were more than a thousand religious leaders at the meeting with Pope Francis and he said this had a real impact in a society like Sri Lanka where “people are attentive to the religious dimension”. The Pope comes as a Christian leader, in harmony with the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders on the island and this “is something historic for the people here.”