A Buddhist monk’s challenge to clergy of all religions – Commentary, Hector Welgampola

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays respect to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero - Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe pays his last respects to Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero – Ranil Wickremasinghe Facebook Photo.

“…grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement…” – Hector Welgampola

2015 was a momentous year in the history of Sri Lanka. It began with a decisive presidential election followed by a significant parliamentary election. The polls led to an unlikely merging of two political teams led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. They were welcomed as implementers of a reform agenda pioneered by a charismatic Buddhist monk– Venerable Madoluwave Sobhitha Thero.

Soon after facilitating such triumph of people power, the king-maker withdrew to his temple, thus providing space and time for the new leaders to implement the program of Good Governance championed by him. However, like émigré who forgot nothing and learned nothing from the French Revolution, many political vermin of all parties lost no time in an eager rush for perks and privileges. While the frustrated prelate was contemplating the next move of his prophetic mission, he fell ill and died, a virtual white martyr in a campaign for social justice.

The new rulers hastened to give a State funeral to the venerable thero whose untimely death is mourned by the entire Nation. Even the Catholic Church held a Nov. 23 memorial in his honor. Eulogizing the prelate’s prophetic self-giving, his close collaborator Father Reid Shelton Fernando reportedly compared the prelate to Prophet Jeremiah. It was an appeal for further pursuit of the prelate’s prophetic commitment of witness to social justice. No doubt a tall order for puny politicians!

The politically dissipated new rulers too have rushed in to recommit to Venerable Sobhitha’s agenda, though emphasis seems to be more on constitutional reform and less on wiping out the endemic cancer of corruption. The Western-style perception of reform as political tinkering has been deep rooted in the psyche of the country’s political establishment. Unfortunately, the momentary dazzle of such political tinsel has often anesthetized the public and distracted their yearning for a moral ethic in politics: a weakness that has riddled the country for centuries.

By coincidence, this year also marks the bicentenary of the political cataclysm of 1815, which has been innocuously recorded as the year when the British completed their capture of then Ceylon. Until recent times, little was spoken of the local political establishment’s connivance in that transfer of power to the colonizers. Much less was highlighted about the polity’s spontaneous protest symbolized by a Buddhist monk courageous enough to rise against the aristocracy’s surrender of a Nation’s self-respect. History records how he pulled down the British flag and re-hoisted the flag of the country’s last independent kingdom.

Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thero’s action on behalf of his Nation was the symbolic launch of a people’s political protest that kept struggling in varied forms to survive for over a century. His 1815 protest surfaced and resurfaced in the form of popular riots, rebellions and uprisings in 1818, 1848, 1912 onward. Ultimately, such protests in the public square were hijacked by new rich urban elite seeking respectability of a tame path of constitutional reform to the delight of their colonial masters. 

That contrived process climaxed in the British-style dominion status leading to political independence in 1947. Just as the Nation’s cause of selfhood was nobly pioneered by generations of Buddhist clergy, its blossoming into a popular movement was thwarted by the money-culture- addicted business elite striving to emasculate it into a tool of economic dominance and political control. And from the early years of political independence, the parliamentary system became a forum to entrench family power, and share political spoils based on subtle racist and casteist criteria. That led in no small measure to the uprisings of the post-independence period. We do not need to go down that path again.

This bi-centenary year of the 1815 political upheaval has begun to be marked by still newer waves of constitutional pyrotechnics to divert the Nation’s need for moral reawakening and elimination of corruption at all levels. Political lobbies have proved themselves impotent in fulfilling that momentum perceived by Sobhitha Thero as a prophetic mission. It was part of a grassroots-level spiritual mission nurtured by generations of non-hierarchical Buddhist clergy including more recent plebian-allied prelates such as Venerable Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero, Venerable Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thero and Venerable Siri Seevli Thero.

If that mission of apolitical social engagement is not to be frittered away, grassroots-level clergy of all religions should commit themselves to the role Venerable Sobhitha Thero played as mentor and guardian of the people’s conscience. The time has come to take such commitment to apocalyptic fulfillment through an apolitical mass movement.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Filipino Cardinal Quevedo,Papal Envoy to Japan ‘Hidden Christians’ anniversary

[update March 14, 2015]

OMI, NJ Viehland Photos

Filipino Cardinal Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato – NJ Viehland Photos

Celebrations in Nagasaki began today to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the “Hidden Christians of Japan.” Pope Francis appointed Filipino Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, will serve as his Special Envoy at the anniversary event which will last until March 17th.

Full report here

Hidden Christians video by Journeyman YouTube

click photo to watch Journeyman Pictures’ mini-documentary on Hidden Christians

Also taking place at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture until April 15 is the exhibit of more than 500 items confiscated from Japanese Christians during their brutal persecution in the 19th century from the late Edo Period to the early Meiji Era, Japan Times online newspaper announced.

The Times reports that some 550 items are back in Nagasaki for the first time on display in the special exhibition “Miracles Protected by the Virgin Mary — Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki,” include 212 cultural properties rarely loaned out by the Tokyo National Museum at one time.

The exhibit is reportedly taking place because the central government has recommended that churches and other Christian locations in Nagasaki be listed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. It shows the history of Christianity in Japan from the introduction of the faith by Francis Xavier in 1549, to the birth of the “hidden Christians” caused by brutal crackdowns and the confession of their beliefs to a foreign priest by a small group of Japanese in 1865.

Cardinal Quevedo, first prelate on the southern Philippines Mindanao island to be created cardinal, has led the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) as Secretary General from 2005-2011. FABC is a Vatican-approved voluntary association of Catholic bishops’ conferences in Central, East, South and Southeast Asia.

 

Challenges to Religious in the 21st Century Asia – Commentary

By: Hector Welgampola 

Nun during a break at the XVIth Asia-Oceania Meeting of Religious (AMOR) in Tagaytay City, Philippines. – NJ Viehland Photos

As home of the world’s main religions, Asia has been the font and source of mysticism. The ancient continent’s celestial heights, expansive deserts and sprawling wilderness whetted early Asians’ yearning for the sublime. This search inspired varied forms of ascetic life in Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Judaic, Essene, Christian, Islamic, Zoroastrian traditions.

As reminded by the current Lenten season, the habitat-related search for the divine is nothing new to our own faith tradition. Moses’ Sinai trek, the Baptist’s desert sojourn, and Jesus’ withdrawal both to the wilderness and to Tabor are links in that chain of mystic spirituality.

The Catholic Catechism’s claim that “Religious life was born in the East during the first centuries of Christianity,” affirms the continuity of that search by early mystics such as Saints Anthony and Melania of Egypt. The Desert Fathers’ and Mothers’ lifestyle of contemplative and self-purifying spirituality paved the way for a Christian monastic tradition. Religious communities grew when holy solitaires fraternized for more effective search and service in and through wider society.

Contemplatives’ ascetic role in the Christian community, however, was in no way diminished by the birth of proactive Religious Orders in Europe or even gradual dominance of ordained ministries. Rather, the contrary seemed to be true at least in Asia where, despite canonical definition of some Religious as lay groups, laypeople always had higher esteem for unordained Religious than for diocesan clergy. Such reverence for consecrated persons is rooted in Asian cultures, where people value holiness of life over the liturgical ministry of sacramental service.

MC, NJ Viehland

Missionaries of Charity at Prayers of Lament for Yolanda victims, Manila, NJ Viehland Photo

Such esteem was the secret behind the success of revered missioners such as Matteo Ricci, Roberto de Nobili, John de Britto, Costanzo Beschi, Mother Teresa and Joseph Vaz. Except for Vaz, the others were Europeans. Nonetheless, they assimilated the essentials of Asian spirituality and won people’s hearts by holiness of life and witness. The world still looks back with nostalgia to their ascetic life, which radiated the spirit of Asian sages, swamis and gurus. Had local Religious too grown in such spirituality, they could have furthered the Asian awakening pioneered by revivalists like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Sun Yat-sen.

At the turn of the century, the Asian Synod acknowledged that, “In the numerous religious traditions of Asia, men and women dedicated to the contemplative and ascetic life enjoy great respect and their witness has an especially persuasive power.” But amid a whirlpool of canonical and ritual implications impacting Religious life in the post-modern West, precious little was done to let the synod-affirmed power of witness flourish in the service of Asia. And it is still not too late for Asian Religious to explore the stalled vision of above-named pioneers in a renewed search for new modalities of holiness and holy activism to meet today’s needs.

La Salette Sr., NJ Viehland Photos

Catholic nuns and clergy led the ecumenical prayer to end corruption in the Philippines, NJ Viehland Photos

Take for example, the current pastoral setup in many Asian countries where vagaries of the public square and diocesan prescripts inhibit even well-meaning pastors from any prophetic role. In such a scenario, community-supported Religious will be at greater liberty to engage in prophetic roles of furthering the good-news ministry by denouncing and challenging market-enslaved consumerist cultures.

Opus Dei, NJ Viehland Photos

Fair Trade coffee farmers in Laguna, NJ Viehland Photos

The revival of grassroots groups such as the Federation of Free Farmers in the Philippines or the Catholic Farmers’ Association in South Korea or networking people-welfare groups in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia or Sri Lanka on an ecumenical level can be timely challenges for today’s Religious. The lead taken by some individual Religious to volunteer as English teachers in China has much potential as a base for youth apostolate. The fast growing milieu of social media should challenge today’s Religious to discern creative outreach through the blogosphere and the virtual world that coral an eclectic phono sapiens generation.

Nuns tweet at Catholic Social Media Summit v2, Dagupan, 2014 - NJ Viehland Photos

Nuns tweet at Catholic Social Media Summit v2, Dagupan, 2014 – NJ Viehland Photos

Religious should find providential role models in the earlier named pioneer missioners who on their own initiative ventured out of the beaten track even at the risk of being considered freaks by their own institutes. Fired by deep faith, they dared to discern contextual charisms for service, not for self-glory. Today’s Church woefully needs more of such men and women with pastoral wisdom and prophetic courage to venture beyond confines of juridical carapace.

Additionally, would AMOR and its local arms look beyond the juridical ebb and tide, and encourage Religious to venture out in Gospel witness even in traditional mission fields? For example, missioners from Islamic countries like Indonesia and Pakistan may better suit the needs of Central Asian cultures than missioners from elsewhere. Such missions may also help renew the apostolic energies of those Religious crucified by administrative overkill. On a lighter note, such re-missioning may even help resolve the ennui-syndrome driving Green-Card-seeking “missioner” outflows beyond the Atlantic.

This attempt to discuss some challenges to Religious would be incomplete if it fails to voice their muted challenge to Mother Church. After all, as sons and daughters of today’s Church, Religious too are part of fallible humanity. Like all laity, clergy and bishops, they too are part of a sinful world striving for perfection. Having dared to pursue that search through service to society, they challenge the Christian community with a plea for prayer and understanding. A timely Lenten mission!

Hector Welgampola

Hector Welgampola, welgampo@gmail.com Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

 

Pope Francis appoints Quevedo papal envoy in Japan ‘hidden Christians’ anniversary

 NJ Viehland Photos

NJ Viehland Photos

Vatican City, 17 January – Pope Francis has appointed Filipino Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, archbishop of Cotabato, as his special envoy to the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the “hidden Christians of Japan”, to be held in Nagasaki March 14-17, Vatican Information Service reported.

Catholic missionaries St. Francis Xavier of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)  with Cosme de Torres and John Fernandes  arrived in Kagoshima, Japan in 1549, to spread the word of God. Eventually, the number of Christians rose to about 300,000 including members of the aristocracy, but by the beginning of the next century, Christianity was banned in the country and in 1612, the faithful were forced into practicing their beliefs in hiding. 

The “hidden Christians” are locally known as Kakure Kirishitan.

Today, about half a million Japanese identify as Catholics; roughly 0.5% of the population. There are 16 dioceses around the country. 

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan Archbishop Peter Takeo Okada of Tokyo wrote last year about his church’s plan for the March anniversary celebration. Archbishop Okada said the existence of these Christians who kept their faith under severe persecution was revealed at Oura Catholic Church in Nagasaki. He expressed his hope that Pope Francis would join the commemoration.

“We would be deeply grateful if Pope Francis would encourage us in deepening our faith and conveying widely the message of faith to others. We also expect that a visit by the pope would be an occasion for promoting and advancing inter-religious dialogue in Japan,” Archbishop Okada added.

The pope would be just coming from pastoral visits to Sri Lanka and the Philippines by the time of the Japan event. He chose to send Cardinal Quevedo as his representative .

The 75 year-old cardinal has been called a “powerful voice for inter religious dialogue” between Muslims and Christians especially those in Mindanao where an autonomous region with predominantly Muslim populations sits.

Quevedo also headed the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) from 2005-2011. The Japan bishops’ conferences is a member of the voluntary association of bishops’ conferences in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s letter: Peace And Fraternity—The Road Map For A New Myanmar

By Charles Bo, SDB, Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar

Happy New Year to all of you!

Today is the Day of Peace. For the citizens of Myanmar this is a day of a common dream, a common hope. I wish each one of you a blessed and peace-filled new year.

As we prepare for the dawn of a New Year, so too in Myanmar we are preparing for the dawn of a new era. A new era of freedom, democracy, justice, peace and hope. A new era of fraternity among the diverse peoples of our beautiful nation. There is much to be grateful for.  There is much to be hoped for.  We stand at that blessed and challenging juncture in history. We are just at the very beginning of a new chapter in Myanmar’s story. Over the past two years, the doors of our nation have opened to the world. There are many reasons for hope. In the past two years, restrictions on freedom of expression have been relaxed, there is more space for civil society, the media and political actors, there have been preliminary steps towards peace in the ethnic states, and many political prisoners have been released. After many years under house arrest, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been elected to Parliament, along with her colleagues in the National League for Democracy. These steps encourage us to see the prospect of a new dawn.

For the first time in more than fifty years, there are reasons to be hopeful for Myanmar. And all these came because some of our brothers and sisters, from 1988 onwards refused to accept the powers of darkness. Some of them were willing to lay down their lives on the altar of supreme sacrifice. They gave their yesterday so that our today may be free and the tomorrow of Myanmar may be justice oriented. Yet we must remember that this is just the very beginning of the beginning. As some political prisoners have been released, others have been arrested. As talks about peace take place, military attacks against civilians in Kachin State continue. And as we begin to enjoy more freedom of speech, some have used this to preach hatred and incite violence against our Muslim brothers and sisters. So there is a very long way still to go, there are many grave challenges to be addressed, and on the horizon alongside the sunshine of hope and a new dawn sit storm clouds of suffering and strife. Myanmar will never be truly free and at peace until all the peoples of Myanmar can live in freedom and peace. Democratic reforms in the cities will not, by themselves, end decades of conflict. It is often said that genuine peace will only be achieved through a peace process, not simply ceasefires, and that such a peace process must involve a political dialogue leading to a political settlement for Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities.

This is true. However, real, true peace can only be achieved through a revolution in our hearts, a renewal of our minds and a rediscovery of the value of fraternity. Peace, Pope Paul VI warned, is not the absence of War.  Once again he guided the nations:  If you want Peace, work for Justice.  No Justice No Peace. Catholic Social tradition struggles for this noble concept: Peace that is born of Justice. As Pope Francis says in his New Year’s message for this World Day of Peace, “in the heart of every man and woman is the desire for a full life, including that irrepressible longing for fraternity which draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.”

For six decades the country was suffocated by an inhuman dictatorship. You and I and every human being were suffering in our long night of silent tears.  And after all those tears and brokenness, after darkness of merciless persecutions, dawn arrives and we seek light.  But suddenly there seems to be darkness at the midday.  I refer to the interreligious conflicts that has brought sorrow, stigma to the young nation. Do we deserve this. Over the past eighteen months, a wave of hatred and violence  that included violence towards our Muslim brothers and sisters has been unleashed, wreaking destruction and death across Rakhine State, Meikhtila, Oakkan, Lashio and some other parts of our country. This hatred and violence led not only to the deaths of many people and the destruction of homes and shops, but to the death of fraternity and the destruction of brotherhood. Our country’s good name was tarnished world over.  The senseless acts of few brought grief to many.  All communities suffered.

Our task is to rebuild not only the destroyed buildings, but destroyed relationships. Our task, individually and in community, is to rebuild our hearts. The Holy Father says that “without fraternity, it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace”. Whatever our religion, we need to refocus our minds on our common humanity and our fraternity as peoples of Myanmar. The Pope says “in the dynamics of history, and in the diversity of ethnic groups, societies and cultures, we see the seeds of a vocation to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.” We need to rediscover the value of “unity in diversity”. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, rich in ethnic and religious diversity. This diversity is something to celebrate. After the storms, when the sun comes out, we should be able to see that we are a nation of many colours.  

A rainbow nation. We must build a nation in which every person born on Myanmar’s soil feels at home, has a stake in the country’s future, is treated with equal respect and equal rights, and is accepted and cared for by their neighbours. A nation where the histories, languages, customs and religions of all are respected and celebrated. There must be no second-class people. As Pope Francis says, “in many parts of the world, there seems to be no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom.” This is true in our corner of the world. Even as talks continue in Kachin State, we hear reports of attacks on villages, looting of churches, and the rape of women and girls. In other parts of our country, we hear of mosques destroyed. We hear of the tragedy of an entire people, known as ‘Rohingyas’, treated as if they were not human, consigned to dire conditions in displacement camps or forced to flee the country in boats, embarking on a precarious escape across the seas.

The cause of Rohingya is highly contested. Every human being, Christianity believes, is created in the image of God.  All of us belong to God’s immeasurable embrace of dignity reaches all. The Myanmar government and the International community need to settle citizenship issues. But as a people, as a nation that has taken Karuna and Metta  as the guiding principles, we should not allow a fringe to stain a nation known for its forbearance through random violence. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, says Martin Luther King Jr.. We know that many of the Rohingya people have lived in Myanmar for generations, yet they are not accepted as citizens and are rendered stateless. This misery cannot be allowed to continue. Every person born in Myanmar should be recognized as a citizen of Myanmar. While wars and interreligious conflicts go on, a much under reported human agony unfolds elsewhere which affect all communities. Those agonies are much more deeply wounding the nation.  But sadly attention is wanting in these day to day issues that affect millions in our country.

We hear of human trafficking of women and children, as well as more subtle abuses, such as land confiscation or discrimination against religious minorities in business and government employment. The Pope notes: “The tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example … Alongside overt armed conflicts are less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses.” Those words speak to our situation in Myanmar today and remind us of the challenges we must face. A nation that successfully conducted the SEA games deserves a great praise.  When needed, the Myanmar as a nation and people can rise up to any challenge. The same spirit is needed to fight chronic wars  that bleed the nation. We refer to the absolute poverty of 40 percent of our people. We refer to the millions, languishing in the hell of Malaysia, Thailand, victims of human trafficking, the modern day slaves. The multiple faces of poverty is a pestering wound in the soul of the nation. The great challenge is poverty.

The Holy Father says that fraternity is “a prerequisite for fighting poverty”. We must put richness of heart first, if we are to end material poverty. In Pope Francis’ words, “This means not being guided by a ‘desire for profit’ or a ‘thirst for power’. What is needed is the willingness to ‘lose ourselves’ for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to ‘serve them’ instead of oppressing them. The ‘other’ – whether a person, a people or a nation – is to be seen … as our ‘neighbour’.” He continues: “Christian solidarity presumes that our neighbour is loved not only as ‘a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but as the living image of God’.” And so as we begin a New Year and move towards a new era, I echo Pope Francis’ words on behalf of the Church, to all who are suffering the consequences of hatred and war: “To all those who live in lands where weapons impose terror and destruction, I assure you of my personal closeness and that of the whole Church, whose mission is to bring Christ’s love to the defenseless victims of forgotten wars through her prayers for peace, her service to the wounded, the starving, refugees, the displaced and all who live in fear.

The Church also speaks out in order to make leaders hear the cry of pain of the suffering and to put an end to every form of hostility, abuse and the violation of fundamental human rights. For this reason, I appeal forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand! Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”

I wish all my brothers and sisters, of all religions and ethnicities, throughout our nation a truly happy and blessed New Year. Let’s join hands together to build a new rainbow nation in Myanmar. Let 2014 mark a new era not only of greater freedom, but of fraternity, throughout Myanmar, and in growing in fraternity, we can secure lasting peace and prosperity. A new Myanmar is possible My brothers and Sisters.  That Myanmar will be born   through Peace that comes through Justice. That Myanmar that will make poverty history That Myanmar that will celebrate unity in diversity A free Myanmar freed from hatred is possible. Let us echo with Tagore the great Poet and Nobel Laureate :  Into that land of freedom and prosperity,  My Father, Let my Country Awake.

*Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, of Yangon, Myanmar was among 15 cardinal electors Pope Francis is to create in February.

From Radio Veritas Asia, Quezon City, Philippines

 

Three Asians among new cardinals

Rome: Three Asians are among 20 new cardinals Pope Francis will create during a Feb. 14 consistory in the Vatican, Matters India reported.

One of the pope’s nominees is Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Southeast Asian nation has a small but vibrant Catholic community and is one of the few countries with which the Holy See doesn’t have diplomatic relations. However, relations have warmed notably in recent years and some expect full ties to be restored in the near future.

welcome FABC Vietnam N J Viehland photo go

Vietnam Catholics and government officials welcome FABC assembly delegates to Xuan Loc, NJ Viehland Photos

The Pope also nominated Archbishop Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Bangkok and Archbishop Charles Maung Bo in Myanmar.

They are among new cardinals from 14 countries in total: five are from Europe, three each from Asia and Latin America, and two each from Africa and Oceania.

Fifteen men are under the age of 80, which makes them eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a future pope. The group of cardinals is the second appointed by Pope Francis, who will have chosen nearly a quarter of voting-age cardinals once they are elevated during a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Feb. 14.

For the second time, the pope chose no new American cardinals. And his nominees in the rich world reflect his preference to focus on smaller cities. For instance, he chose Msgr. Ricardo Blazquez Perez, archbishop of Valladolid, Spain.

Referring to the Vatican, Pope Francis told faithful in St Peter’s Square that the churchmen come “from every continent” and “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”

In addition to the 15 new cardinals who are under 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope, Francis bestowed the honor on five churchmen older than that.

He said they distinguished themselves for their work in the Vatican bureaucracy, in diplomatic service in giving witness to their love of Christ and God’s people. Those included men from Peru and Mozambique.

Speaking from a Vatican window to a crowd in St Peter’s Square, Francis made another surprise announcement. He said that on February 12-13, he will lead of meeting of all cardinals to “reflect on the orientations and proposals for the reform of the Roman Curia,” the Vatican’s administrative bureaucracy.

Read full report

Gearing up for Papal Visit 2015, Bl. Vaz canonization – pastoral letter

WELCOMING THE VICAR OF CHRIST ON THE OCCASION OF THE CANONIZATION OF BLESSED JOSEPH VAZ

PASTORAL LETTER ISSUED BY THE CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF SRI LANKA

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of His Holiness Pope Francis on our soil on January 13, 2015 as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Peter. It is with great joy that we welcome our Holy Father into our midst.

Already by the simplicity of his life, his sense of evangelical poverty and Christ like compassionate love, specially for the poor and the suffering, the Holy Father has become a much revered and loved spiritual leader of the whole world. The Pope’s visit therefore, is a great blessing not only to the Church in Sri Lanka but also to the whole Nation. All preparations are underway and are progressing smoothly to welcome the Holy Father.

The Holy Father will arrive on January 13, 2015 at 9.00 am at Bandaranaike International Airport and after the preliminary State Welcome, the Holy Father will proceed to the Archbishop’s House for a meeting with the Bishops. On the 13th at 5.00 pm, His Holiness will pay a courtesy call on the President of the country and at 6.00 pm the Holy Father will meet Religious Leaders of all faiths, at the BMICH. The highlight of the Holy Father’s visit undoubtedly will be the Canonization of our Beloved Apostle, at a Holy Mass to be presided over by the Supreme Pontiff, at Galle Face Esplanade on January 14, 2015 at 8.30 am. The same afternoon His Holiness will proceed to the Hallowed Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, for a prayer service. The following morning. after a short visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of Lanka at the Benedict XVIth Institute at Bolawalana, Negombo, the Holy Father will leave our shores at 9.00 am.

We, therefore, exhort all our faithful, Clergy and Religious, to flock to Galle Face Esplanade for the Holy Mass, during which we shall receive the First Saint of Mother Lanka, on January 14, 2015 in large numbers, as this is a unique occasion for all of us.

Our Joy of the visit of the Universal Shepherd is further enhanced by the decision of the Holy Father to Canonise our beloved Apostle, Blessed Joseph Vaz.

Joseph Vaz devotion card

We have prayed earnestly and yearned for this day to dawn. We thank God our loving Father for His unfailing providential care in saving the faith of our forefathers through the indefatigable labours of this great missionary.

We are deeply indebted to Blessed Joseph Vaz for his zeal, heroic sanctity and unquenchable thirst for souls that made him to come to our land and to help our forefathers to be strengthened in their faith.

We, therefore, exhort all our faithful, Clergy and Religious, to flock to Galle Face Esplanade for the Holy Mass, during which we shall receive the first Saint of Mother Lanka, on January 14, 2015, in large numbers, as this is a unique occasion for all of us.

In the coming weeks, we exhort all our faithful, Clergy and Religious to embark on a program me of deep spiritual preparation for both events, namely the Canonisation and the Papal Visit. For this purpose, we urge that all our parishes and Catholic institutions organize programmes of spiritual preparation:

a. The special thanksgiving prayer to be recited in our Churches and Institutions, after the Holy Mass. (If you do not have sufficient number of prayer cards for this purpose, each parish is requested to get them printed in the relevant languages and distribute it to all the faithful).

b. Exhort the faithful to light the altar lamp in every home and after the Family Rosary for the intentions of the Holy Father, recite the prayer of thanksgiving and sing the hymn of Blessed Joseph Vaz.

c. Encourage and provide opportunities for all our faithful to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and make a good Confession before the Papal Visit and the Canonisation.

d. Organise an hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament on a chosen day of the week and urge the faithful to pray intensely for a deep renewal of our families and our Christian commitment to love, to serve and to proclaim the Lord by our lives and witness.

e. In the coming weeks in the Sunday homilies, make the faithful aware of the heroic sanctity and burning zeal and the life and ministry of the Apostle of Sri Lanka, Blessed Joseph Vaz.

f. During the period of preparation, encourage the faithful to visit the sick in the parish and pray with them and pay special attention to the poor and the marginalised. Let parishioners who can afford, assist financially those who have no
means to make the pilgrimage to Colombo on Januar 14.

g. Animate the faithful to be agents of peace and reconciliation in their own environment.

h. We exhort all our parishes to organise the joyous pealing of Church Bells in the whole Island, when the Holy Father makes the declaration of Canonisation during the Holy Mass.

i. Let us participate actively in the Holy Mass of Canonisation with great fervour and devotion by joining in the Mass prayers and the singing.

(Our spiritual preparation committee will be giving further directions for this purpose.)

The Assembly for the Holy Mass of canonization presided over by the Holy Father, would be a great manifestation of our gratitude to God Almighty and our profound gratitude to the Apostle of Sri Lanka, Blessed Joseph Vaz, who was sent to us by Our Loving Father through the intercession of Our Beloved Mother.

May this unique occasion draw down numerous blessings upon all of us and our families and our beloved Motherland by these precious events, which we eagerly await.

Signed

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
President – CBCSL, Archbishop of Colombo.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph
Vice President – CBCSL, Bishop of Mannar.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis
Secretary General – CBCSL, Bishop of Chilaw.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Kingsley Swampillai
Bishop of Trincomalee.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas Savundranayagam
Bishop of Jaffna.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Vianney Fernando
Bishop of Kandy.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. J. Winston S. Fernando, S.S.S
Bishop of Badulla.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Norbert M. Andradi, O.M.I
Bishop of Anuradhapura.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Harold A. Perera
Bishop of Kurunegala.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Cletus C. Perera, O.S.B
Bishop of Ratnapura.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Ponniah
Bishop of Batticaloa.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Raymond K. Wickramasinghe
Bishop of Galle.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Marius Peiris
Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. F. L. Emmanuel Fernando
Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.
h Rt. Rev. Dr. Maxwell G. Silva
Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady 8th December 2014.

[text of pastoral letter reprinted raw from Messenger, Sri Lanka’s weekly Catholic Newspaper, Dec. 14, 2014 issue]