· Pope Francis' appeal during Mass celebrated in Colombo for the canonization of Joseph Vaz, Sri Lanka's first saint ·
Before half a million faithful, Francis proclaimed the Oratorian priest Joseph Vaz the first Saint of Sri Lanka. During the course of the celebration – held on Wednesday, 14 January in the Galle Frace Green, a large park in Colombo which stretches for a half kilometre along the coast – he relaunched the appeal for religious freedom, which he defined as “a fundamental human right”. He affirmed that every person “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”.
The canonization of the missionary priest, who bore witness to the “Gospel message of reconciliation” amid persecution and violence in the 17th and 18th centuries, provided the Pope with an occasion to renew the invitation not to instrumentalize religion. “As the life of Saint Joseph Vaz teaches us”, he stated in the homily, “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.
The message was also repeated in the subsequent meeting at the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, a symbolic site of the “long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka”. Gathering himself in prayer before the statue of the Madonna – which had to be removed from the Shrine for a period due to the violent clashes – the Pope exhorted the people to persevere in the “difficult effort to forgive and find peace”. He expressly addressed the invitation to “both Tamil and Sinhalese speaking communities”, calling them to “to rebuild the unity which was lost” in order to guarantee the country “a future of reconciliation, justice and peace”.
Francis will bid farewell to Sri Lanka on Thursday, 15 January, as he travels on to The Philippines, the second stop on his apostolic journey. In Manila, where he will arrive at 5:45 PM local time, a brief welcome ceremony is scheduled to take place at the airport. Subsequent appointments, including the visit to the President of the Republic, the meeting with Authorities and Mass in the Cathedral, will take place on Friday morning.
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