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Pope’s visit expected to help reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan choir

Voices of welcome: Fr Jude Nicholas leads members of the choir during rehearsal at Galle Face Green on January 11 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Pope Francis will visit Sri Lanka from January 13-15.
Photo: CNS/Anto Akkara

THE leader of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is confident Pope Francis’ visit to that country will boost reconciliation as the people emerge from a 30-year war.

The Pope arrives in Colombo today (January 13) for a two-day visit before heading for the Philippines.

President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo said this would be an historic visit.

“We are trying our best to make it memorable,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

“This visit of Pope Francis is going to be historic. It will be a tremendous boost for the Catholic community as we are in the midst of several challenges.

“We will have our own saint with the canonisation of Blessed Vaz, who founded the Church (here) once again when it was dying,” said Cardinal Ranjith, referring to the Oratorian priest who moved to Sri Lanka in 1687 and is known as the apostle of Sri Lanka.

Pope Francis will canonise Blessed Vaz tomorrow (January 14) at Galle Face Green – the same place where St John Paul II beatified him in 1995. A half a million people are expected for the Mass.

“The Pope is coming to Sri Lanka after we have come out of a 30-year-old war and are in the process of seeking reconciliation. This process will be certainly helped by the papal visit,” Cardinal Ranjith said.

After the canonisation, Pope Francis will fly to the Marian shrine of Madhu, north of Colombo, where he will meet victims of the ethnic war after praying the Rosary at the shrine.

Catholics fled following persecution of Catholics and Dutch Calvinists in the 1600s. Carrying the statue of Mary with them, some Catholics built the Madhu church that has become the biggest pilgrim centre in Sri Lanka.

During the closing stage of the protracted war in 2008, the historic statue had to be removed from the shrine when it came under crossfire.

Deputy secretary-general of the bishops’ conference Fr Tony Martin said that, reinforcing the theme of reconciliation, the vestments for the canonisation Mass had been stitched and woven by war widows of Sri Lankan soldiers and Tamil rebels.

“The whole Church of Sri Lanka is involved in the preparations. Each of the two dozen committees have bishops, priests and others from the dioceses,” Fr Martin said.

Colombo archdiocesan consultant for ecclesial art and architecture Fr L.G. Priyantha Silva said he designed the canonisation altar in the historic architecture style of Kandy, from where Blessed Vaz carried out his re-evangelisation of Sri Lanka.

“Most of our people will reach Madhu to see the Pope,” Bishop Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura told CNS while standing near the choir rehearsing for the papal Mass on the green. “Compared to Colombo, Madhu is much closer (geographically) to our people.”

As he spoke, Bishop Joseph Fernando of Kandy was giving instructions to the choir members, drawn from several dioceses. The choir will sing in Sinhalese and Tamil languages as a sign of the county’s ethnic diversity and unity.

“I hope I will get a chance to see closely the Pope, who is dear to all,” said H.R. Nirmali Jenifa, a Sunday school teacher and law student from a suburb of Colombo. “Everyone is speaking about his concern for the poor and the children.”

She said her parish had arranged half a dozen buses to transport parishioners to the canonisation.

The Sri Lankan Government has released hundreds of state buses to parishes to transport Catholics to the canonisation; 20,000 security personnel will be deployed for crowd management.

“Even non-Christians are excited with the papal visit,” media co-ordinator of the papal visit Fr Cyril Gamini Fernando said. He said more than 500 Buddhist monks, Hindu and Muslim leaders and non-Catholic church officials would greet Pope Francis when he addressed an inter-religious meeting during his first evening in the country.


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