Home - VIS Vatican - Receive VIS - Contact us - Calendar

The Vatican Information Service is a news service, founded in the Holy See Press Office, that provides information about the Magisterium and the pastoral activities of the Holy Father and the Roman Curia...[]

Last 5 news

VISnews in Twitter Go to YouTube

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Francis canonises Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka's first saint

Vatican City, 14 January 2015 (VIS) – On the morning of Wednesday 14 January, the Holy Father transferred from the apostolic nunciature in Colombo to Galle Face Green. This urban park in the heart of the financial district of Colombo spreads over five hectares up to the coast of the Indian Ocean and can hold up to half a million people. Twenty years ago, on 15 January 1995, St. John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass in the same location and proclaimed Joseph Vaz blessed. Francis then left the car in favour of the Popemobile to tour the many faithful – more than half a million – gathered in the park. Before entering the sacristy, the Pope was greeted by the mayor of the city of Colombo, who presented him with the keys to the city.

The Mass and canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz began at 8.30 a.m. local time. Sri Lanka's first saint, 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 baptised 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.

Blessed Vaz, said the Holy Father in his homily, “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'. In Saint Joseph we see a powerful sign of God’s goodness and love for the people of Sri Lanka. But we also see in him a challenge to persevere in the paths of the Gospel, to grow in holiness ourselves, and to testify to the Gospel message of reconciliation to which he dedicated his life”.

“Saint Joseph Vaz continues to be an example and a teacher for many reasons, but I would like to focus on three”, he continued. “First, he was an exemplary priest. Here today with us are many priests and religious, both men and women, who, like Joseph Vaz, are consecrated to the service of God and neighbour. I encourage each of you to look to Saint Joseph as a sure guide. He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved. He is 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. Like ourselves, Saint Joseph Vaz lived in a period of rapid and profound transformation; Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; there was occasional hostility, even persecution, from without. And yet, because he was constantly united with the crucified Lord in prayer, he could become for all people a living icon of God’s mercy and reconciling love”.

The new saint, explained Pope Francis, “shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace. His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbour; 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. As the life of Saint Joseph Vaz teaches us, genuine worship of God bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all”.

Finally, “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. This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today. We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, as Saint Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples”.

“Dear brothers and sisters”, he concluded, “I pray that, following the example of Saint Joseph Vaz, the Christians of this country may be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society. This is what Christ asks of you. This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you. I commend all of you to the intercession of our new saint, so that, in union with the Church throughout the world, you may sing a new song to the Lord and declare his glory to all the ends of the earth. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. Amen”.

At the end of the celebration, Pope Francis presented to Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, archbishop of Colombo, a reproduction engraved on copper of the “Sannas”, the document by which in 1694 King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe of Kandy authorised 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 dollars to Pope Francis for papal charity.

The Holy Father subsequently returned to the apostolic nunciature of Colombo to lunch and to rest, then shortly after 2 p.m. he left for the heliport, in order to depart by helicopter for Madhu.

At the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu: Mary accompanies Tamils and Sinhalese in rebuilding their lost unity

Vatican City, 14 January 2015 (VIS) – This Wednesday the Holy Father made the 250-kilometre journey by helicopter from Colombo to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, the second stage of his trip in Sri Lanka. The shrine is located in the north of the Island inhabited predominantly by the Tamil people, and has a four-century-long history. In 1544 some Christians escaped from the massacres ordered by the King of Jaffna, who feared the expansion of Portuguese influence, and sought refuge in the jungle, where they built a rudimentary place for prayer with the statue that is now located inside the shrine. In 1583 some Christians, again fleeing from Mannar, began to build churches in nearby areas. One of these, 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 1987, Catholicism began to flourish and Madhu 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. The Marian shrine is a place of prayer that is well-respected and frequented by Catholic faithful and followers of other religions; nevertheless, it was affected by fighting between Tamil rebels and government forces. The bishops of Sri Lanka managed to ensure that the shrine became a demilitarised zone, 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 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 passed once more to the diocese of Mannar and reopened as a place of worship in December 2010.

More than half a million people awaited the Pope, and prayed 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.

“There are families here today which 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.

“But Our Lady remained always with you. She is the mother of every home, of every wounded family, of all who are seeking to return to a peaceful existence. Today we thank her for protecting the people of Sri Lanka from so many dangers, past and present. 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. But we also want to ask her to implore for us the grace of God’s mercy. 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”, acknowledged the Holy Father. “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. In this difficult effort to forgive and find peace, Mary is always here to encourage us, to guide us, to lead us. Just as she forgave her Son’s killers at the foot of his Cross, then held his lifeless body in her hands, so now she wants to guide Sri Lankans to greater reconciliation, so that the balm of God’s pardon and mercy may bring true healing to all”.

Finally, he added, “we want to ask Mother Mary 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”.

“Dear brothers and sisters”, he concluded, “I am happy to be with you in Mary’s house. Let us pray for one another. Above all, let us ask that this shrine may always be a house of prayer and a haven of peace. Through the intercession of Our Lady of Madhu, may all people find here inspiration and strength to build a future of reconciliation, justice and peace for all the children of this beloved land. Amen”.

Following the Lord's Prayer and after blessing the assembly with the image of Our Lady of Madhu, the Pope returned by Popemobile to the Madhu heliport, a journey of one and a half kilometres, greeting the crowds of faithful along the way. He then returned to Colombo.

Pope Francis' telegram to the President of the Italian Republic

Vatican City, 14 January 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has sent a telegram from Sri Lanka to the president of the Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, who today stepped down from the position he has held since May 2006. The eleventh president of the Italian Republic and the only one to have been re-elected twice, Napolitano visited the Vatican to greet Pope Francis on 8 June 2013, the first official state visit of his second mandate. The full text of the telegram is published below:

“Having learned of your resignation from the role of Head of State during my apostolic trip in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, 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”.

Other Pontifical Acts

Vatican City, 14 January 2015 (VIS) – The Holy Father has appointed Msgr. Joseph G. Hanefeldt as bishop of Grand Island (area 108,800, population 316,000, Catholics 55,800, priests 61, permanent deacons 7, religious 56), U.S.A. The bishop-elect was born in Creighton, Nebraska, U.S.A. in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1984. He holds a bachelor's degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, and a diploma in sacramental theology from the St. Anselm Pontifical Athenaeum, Rome. He has served in a number of pastoral roles, including parish vicar of the “St. Mary” parish in West Point and the “St. Joan of Arc” parish in Omaha; director of the archdiocesan office for pro-life activities; moderator of the archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women; parish priest of the “St. Joseph” parish and the “St. Elizabeth Ann Seton” parish in Omaha; and director of spiritual formation at the North American Pontifical College. He is currently parish priest of the “Christ the King” parish in Omaha and member of the presbyteral council and Priests' Personnel Board. In 2010 he was named Chaplain of His Holiness. He succeeds Bishop William J. Dendinger, whose resignation from the pastoral ministry of the same diocese upon reaching the age limit was accepted by the Holy Father.

Copyright © VIS - Vatican Information Service