Commentary: The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

Joseph Vaz devotion card

     The courage of Sri Lanka’s first saint challenges today’s Church

The  eyes of the faithful saw the saint in Joseph Vaz during his lifetime. But he had to wait 303 years after death for official acclaim of his sanctity. And now, will his canonization just niche him away on church walls or inspire emulation of his pastoral courage?

For many years, Church historians, pious groups in Goa and Sri Lanka’s Joseph Vaz National Secretariat kept the Vaz saga of sanctity alive. As secretariat chair and ordinary of Vaz’ final resting place, Bishop Vianney Fernando of Kandy harnessed people’s enthusiasm for the Vaz cause. Soon after Vaz was beatified in 1995, nine Lankan dioceses built 23 churches/chapels in his honor. At some 10 venues, devotees hold public prayer to seek his intercession.

Even before official approval of public veneration for the country’s first saint, in 1983 Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando of Colombo pioneered a project to focus laity attention on a vital aspect of Vaz’ ministry. He founded Joseph Vaz Deva Dharma Niketanaya to teach theology in the Sinhala language. Now affiliated to Rome’s Urban University, the theologate has campuses in three other dioceses as well.

Up until now, this network has helped train catechists and lay cadres for apostolates. Hopefully, the Jan. 14 canonization should enthuse these campuses to take a lead in deeper study and wider sharing of hitherto unexplored lessons of the Vaz mission methods.

The life and mission of Sri Lanka’s first saint was uniquely heroic and prophetic in many ways. His own priestly zeal led him there in 1687 to serve Catholics abandoned by Portuguese colonizers and their clergy. After the Apostles of Jesus, he is the first known Asian missioner to have evangelized an Asian country. And he did it with the help of a few fellow-Indian priests. That is why Pope John Paul II named him the greatest missioner in Asia since Francis Xavier.

From the ruins of a Lusitanized Church deserted by the Portuguese, the Brahmin priest began to build a truly native Church. After studying the local language and culture, his pastoral team introduced indigenized para-liturgies to meet people’s spiritual needs. He set apart teams of writers to provide Catholic literature in Sinhala and Tamil. Though he led a minuscule religious community, Father Vaz intervened for the public good when floods and plagues hit the country. If the essence of his pastoral style became a guide to later European missioners to Lanka, it froze in a cultural winter. His vibrant witness to interreligious harmony and interethnic amity ended up fossilized.

Three centuries after Father Vaz’ death, the better method of celebrating his canonization would be to discern his message for today, not to blindly mimic his pastoral methods. Just as he set apart personnel for contextual apostolates such as writing and healing, will today’s Church prioritize current apostolic needs and pastoral challenges?

More importantly, will the example of his personal holiness and commitment challenge Catholics and their pastors to holiness of prophetic witness, the essence of our Christian faith? Just the way the Vaz team ministered to smallpox victims, there is a need for pastoral teams to speak up for victims of today’s bigger-pox: injustice, oppression and corruption.

Some Sri Lankan dioceses are so blessed with a glut of priests that seniors may opt to make way for younger clergy. In such a scenario, let volunteers go on Vaz-style mission to needy regions and apostolates.

Maybe, the new Asian theological institute to be blessed by Pope Francis in Negombo could be the nucleus for an Asian program of reverse mission of prophetic social ministry. Such emulation of the great missioner’s pastoral vision and style will be the better way of bringing alive his canonization. It will also resonate the challenge to “apostolic courage to come out of itself” that Cardinal Bergoglio presented to the Church, just before he was elected pope.

Hector Welgampola

welgampo@gmail.com

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.

Papal Visit 2015 Sri Lanka: Pope Francis will be there – Cardinal Ranjith

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Preparations continue, and the Papal visit will take place, despite the doubts that clouded the event in the last months. The Sri-Lankan Church confirms Pope Francis’ pilgrimage from the 13th to the 15th of January; but President Mahinda Rajapaksa also confirms presidential elections on the 8th of January. In this state of affairs, the Pope is, whether he wants to or not, one of the deciding factors in the electoral campaign, in a contest between two candidates that promises to be very balanced. And, hopefully, it will be ‘free from any violence’ as the two candidates wished together in a public statement.

The first unavoidable aspect is exploitation…

Read full report ,La Stampa

Sri Lanka: Making a chair fit for a pope

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Sri Lanka, screen shot

Pope Francis has planned to be in Sri Lanka in January. The main service will be held at the Galle Face Green. The altar on the stage is now being constructed by a Sri Lankan carpenter. His name is Basil Mark Fernando. His father, G.D. Fernando, constructed the altar for the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II, reported Ceylon Today.

Read full report

 

Sri Lanka papal visit itinerary sites readied

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has started preparations both in Colombo and in Madhu, two places Pope Francis will visit on his apostolic journey to Asia next year, his recently released itinerary shows.

Priests blessed Galle Face Green last Friday kicking off work on the stage for the altar where the pope will say Mass on Jan. 14, a senior priest told Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Times.

At this five-hectare ocean-side urban park in the heart of the financial and business district of Colombo “The stage will be constructed by personnel of the Sri Lanka Navy. We have planned out…

Read full report

Pope Francis will depart from Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Monday, Jan. 12 at 7pm and will arrive in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, at 9am Jan. 13. After the welcome ceremony he will meet with the country’s bishops at the archbishop’s residence. He will then pay a courtesy visit to the president of the Republic. The day will conclude with an interreligious meeting at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall. That convention center was built in  Colombo city in the 1970s as a gift from the People’s Republic of China in memory of the fourth Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) who served from 1956 until he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk in 1959.

On Jan. 14, Wednesday, Pope Francis will canonize Sri Lanka’s first saint Blessed Joseph Vaz during a Mass to be celebrated at 8.30 am at the Galle Face Green. The pope will travel by helicopter to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu,  Mannar district, northwest Sri Lanka.

The site is considered as the holiest Catholic shrine on the island and is a well known place of devotion for Catholics belonging to the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. The church with a 400-year history has been a symbol of unity not just between Tamils and Sinhalese groups who fought in a civil war for more than 25 years until 2009. It has also brought together people of various religions, including Buddhists, Hindus and Protestants. From Madu, Pope Francis will return to Colombo by helicopter.

On the last day of his pilgrimage, Thursday, Jan. 15, the pope will visit the chapel of Our Lady of Lanka in Bolawalana before he departs Sri Lanka by plane, at 9am, for Manila.

Read Pope Francis’ complete itinerary in Sri Lanka

 

 

Blessed Joseph Vaz will be proclaimed Saint Jan. 14‎

Pope Francis announced on Monday that Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka, will be declared saint on Jan. 14, 2015, Vatican News reported.

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Pope Francis to visit Madhu Shrine, spend time with war victims, orphans? – Sri Lanka web news

Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

screenshot – Archdiocese of Colombo website photo

Pope Francis would visit the historical Madhu Shrine during his stay in Sri Lanka in January next year, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo reportedly announced in Madhu.

The Pope will arrive in Sri Lanka on the 13th of January 2015, and celebrate mass at the Galle Face Green on the 14th morning before heading to Mannar District in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, reported EyeSriLanka online newspaper.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the district of Mannar is considered one the holiest Catholic shrine in Sri Lanka, and is a place of worship for both the Sinhalese and the Tamils and has been considered a symbol of unity between the two communities.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph, said Pope Francis would visit the Madhu shrine during his January visit and bless the war victims at a special mass at the shrine.

Bishop Joseph along with Cardinal Ranjith blessed thousands of pilgrims who gathered there from various parts of the island for the August festival last Friday, Aug. 15 . 

“Pope Francis will be the first Pope to travel out of Colombo,” Bishop Joseph is quoted saying. The Pope is expected to interact with the war widows, disabled persons and orphans, he added.

Read EyeSriLanka report

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