Colombo: Pope Francis, who is on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, Wednesday, canonized yet another saint from India, who is venerated as the “Apostle of Sri Lanka.”
Thousands of Indians, especially from Goa, the birth place of St. Joseph Vaz, also witnessed the historical moment in the Galle Face beach grounds, Colombo, along with a multi religious group of over half a million Sri Lankan people.
Canonizing the missionary priest who travelled from India to Sri Lanka during the Calvinistic Dutch period, the Pope said the missionary had set an example of how a priest should be.
“He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ known everywhere,” said the Pope while explaining three reasons why Vaz is a saint today.
Joseph Vaz has set an example of how to transcend religious divisions. “The Catholic Church gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion,” the Pope pointed out, stressing the need to follow the new saint’s example.
During the nearly three-hour canonization ceremony and Mass the Pope praised the saint’s missionary zeal and called upon the Church in Sri Lanka to follow the saint in peace making.
“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”, he said in his homily.
Pope had recently canonized two saints from the southern Indian state of Kerala, saints Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia Elavungal.
Father Loyola Perera, secretary to the archbishop of Goa, told Matters India that nearly 1,500 Goans attended the ceremony, besides people from Mangalore, Mumbai and Kerala.
“This is a proud moment for us,” said the priest whose choir presented a hymn in Konkani, the mother tongue of the new saint, at the end of the ceremony.
Another pilgrim from Goa, Agatha Continuo, told matters India that she venerates the saint as a family member, whose is a household name in Goa.
Roshni Fernando, a Catholic lay woman from Sri Lanka, said she was thrilled to see the Pope who has become a hero among the youths. “I am happy he has come to canonize our Apostle, Blessed Joseph Vaz,” said the young woman in her twenties who credited her Catholic faith to the missionary priest from Goa.
Blessed Joseph Vaz was born on April 21, 1651 in Benovlim, Goa. He was the third son of Christopher Vaz and Miranda of Goa. He became a priest in 1676 and served in different parishes of Goa till 1681.
Later, he was sent to Mangalore and travelled from Goa barefoot. On his missionary tour, he had served in Honnavar, Basrur, Kundapura, Gangoli, Mulky, Mangaluru and Ullal Panir. He was miraculously saved from an attempt on his life in 1684, when he was serving as the parish priest of Panir Church.
The only church in the name of Blessed Joseph Vaz is in Mudipu, Mangalore, where he performed a miracle to chase away his rivals when they plotted to kill him. “Besides this church in Mudipu, we only have a sanctuary in Goa in his name so far,” Father Perera said.
Blessed Vaz entered Sri Lanka in 1687 as a laborer, defying a ban on Catholic priests. He served in various places in Sri Lanka braving all odds, thus kindling the Christian faith in Sri Lanka. He died on January 16, 1711 in Kandy.
Earlier on January 13, the Pope was received at the airport by the Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, with a traditional Sri Lankan welcome. In his first address to the Sri Lanka, he expressed concern over the growing ethnic trouble in the island and called upon religious and political leaders to shed hatred and work for reconciliation and peace.
The Sri Lankan island was afflicted by ethnic violence for nearly three decades which ended with a bloody war in 2009, but left deep scars of violence and violations of human rights. Religious fundamentalism also had grown in the recent past leaving attacks on minorities.
The Pope expressed concern over the recent ethnic violence in the island and urged religious leaders to work for peaceful co-existence and heal the wounds of decades of civil war.
“All the religious leaders must shed hostility and work for peace,” said the Pope who urged leaders to foster reconciliation, solidarity, unity the process of healing. He said material development alone is not enough, but country needs also spiritual nourishment.