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



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.


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]


Sri Lanka Commentary: Blessed Joseph Vaz canonization

Joseph Vaz devotion card

Contributed photo

Denigrating the holiest event Lankan Catholics awaited for 303 years

Sri Lanka has decided to hold a presidential election on Jan. 8 – just one week before Pope Francis visits the country. Such advancing of an election, not due for another two years, has deeply hurt the country’s Catholics.

Catholics invited the pope to canonize Blessed Joseph Vaz, the country’s first saint, not for a State visit. The event was set alongside the saint’s Jan. 17 death anniversary. Catholics wished it to be a religious event, with minimal State involvement just for routine protocol. With deep frustration, they now watch the political Trojan horse invade the sanctuary.

The spiritual upbuild for the canonization by groups such as the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat was first distracted with Church-State-planned pageantry for the papal visit. Thereafter political posters made it a tool for election propaganda. Election-related discord and violence may soon overshadow the event. Church leaders little realize the faith erosion caused by letting politics ruin the holiest event Catholics eagerly awaited for 303 years.

Much public distress about the event’s politicization has been expressed via social media and other public exchanges. Many Catholics have urged that the canonization be postponed. Others even say it could be held in Rome like the recent canonization of Indian Saints Chavara and Alphonsa. Some prefer such moves to political denigration of the name of Father Vaz who eschewed politics, and ministered to victims of political conflict.

Sri Lanka Papal visit FB screenshot

The Indian priest had arrived in the country in 1687 dressed as a beggar to avoid Dutch colonizers’ ban on entry of Catholic priests. For 10 years he was the only priest serving the entire country until confreres joined him. During his 24-year apostolate, he searched for Sinhala or Tamil Catholics living in hiding in the aftermath of political conflict between Portuguese and Dutch colonizers. Buddhists and Hindus valued his ascetic witness of treating king and commoner with equanimity.

Saint John Paul II, who beatified Father Vaz in 1995, once described him as the greatest missioner in Asia next to Saint Francis Xavier. It was an affirmation of Lankans’ acclaim of this holy missioner’s sanctity.

Since the missioner’s death in 1711, about 50 books on his life and service have been published in English, French, Italian, Konkani, Sinhalese and Tamil. Devotion to this Apostle of Sri Lanka has spread locally as well as in his Indian homeland. Since his beatification, 10 venues in four Sri Lankan dioceses hold novena devotions to Blessed Vaz. Nine dioceses have dedicated 23 churches and chapels in his honor.

Apart from such public veneration, the aura of his mission still survives in the pastoral field. Trincomalee and Kurunegala dioceses have named their minor seminaries after him. Colombo, Galle and Kurunegala dioceses have opened lay theologates to promote his pioneer mission of indigenization.

Amid such evidence of his living memory, Catholics countrywide have eagerly awaited the peak moment of the preparatory work by the Joseph Vaz National Secretariat, headed by Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy. But the spiritual benefit of these efforts will be lost if election-related rivalry and recrimination invade its final stage. Church leaders should make alternate arrangements if they cannot ensure Catholics a prayerful atmosphere to celebrate their first saint without being hassled by election unrest or militarized restrictions.

Hector Welgampola 

Hector Welgampola

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’ visit to Sri Lanka confirmed – Colombo archdiocese

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, at the meeting of clergy of the Archdiocese of Colombo on Monday 27th October 2014 at the Archbishop’s House, confirmed Pope Francis’ visit to Sri Lanka on Jan. 13 and 14, 2015, the archdiocese reported on its website.

A delegation from the Vatican is reportedly expected to arrive in Sri Lanka to work out the program me for the Pope’s visit.

Read Colombo archdiocese’s full report

Questions about the pope’s announced visit arose in recent weeks after news broke of possible elections in the country in January. 

In a letter to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Cardinal Ranjith reportedly asking the president to inform the church about the date of election and informed the nation’s leader that it was not appropriate for the Pope to visit any country at times of national elections.

Sri Lanka government reportedly confirmed Oct. 26 that the government is taking necessary steps, including necessary infrastructure arrangements, as planned, to facilitate the arrival of Pope Francis.



Pope’s Visit On Track So Far – Sri Lanka Church spokesperson

Pope Francis’ scheduled visit to Sri Lanka in January next year is still on track as the Government has not made any official announcement of a Presidential Election, Catholic Church Spokesman Rev. Cyril Gamini said.

Although there was confusion earlier over the Pontiff’s visit because of an impending Presidential Election in January, Fr. Cyril Gamini said that the scheduled itinerary will not be changed as the Church has not been informed of an election in January.

Meanwhile it is learnt that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not responded to…


Full report

Gifts Sri Lanka bishops asked from Pope Francis

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka [Wikimedia commons}

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Sri Lanka [Wikimedia commons]

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo presented a letter to Pope Francis during the May 2-3 ad limina visit of 13 Sri Lanka bishops asking the pope to bless Pope Benedict XVI Intitute of Theology for Asia, Sri Lanka’s Catholic newspaper reported recently.

“And during your visit please give us the gift of your blessing on the Theological-pastoral Institute which we have dedicated to Pope Benedict XVI and which will help us in the formation of our future ecclesiastical collaborators,” the Sri Lanka bishops’ conference president wrote in his letter to the pope published in the May 18 issue of Messenger, Sri Lanka’s Catholic weekly newspaper.

The cardinal personally launched the institute in Negombo, western Sri Lanka, funded by the Vatican during the term of Pope Benedict XVI who was expected to visit Sri Lanka for its inauguration, said yesterday’s report from  

Benedict announced Feb. 11, 2013 he would step down as pope at the end of that month.

In his letter to Pope Francis earlier this month, Cardinal Ranjith also appealed for the “gift of the canonization of Blessed Joseph Vaz” who the cardinal described as “the great and humble servant of The Lord.”

Blessed Vaz, a Catholic priest from Goa has come to be called “The Apostle of Ceylon (Sri Lanka’s former name).” He went to Ceylon in the 1600s after hearing of the oppression of Catholics in the Dutch colony.

“He, through heroic pastoral ministry carried out during the 16th and 17th centuries, when our Church suffered an intense persecution at the hands of an anti-catholic colonial power, resurrected the faith in our country and so became the second founder of our Church,” Cardinal Ranjith wrote in his letter to Pope Francis.

Aside from Buddhists and some 1.2 million Catholics among Sri Lanka’s population today, there are sizeable Hindu and Muslim minorities. 

At the time of the pope’s announcement of his January 2015 visit to Sri Lanka, Cardinal Ranjith had not received official confirmation from the Vatican of the pope’s visit to Sri Lanka, quoted Sri Lanka’s communications director saying.

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