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John Paul II's Apostolic Pilgrimage to Sri Lanka

20th - 21st January 1995

Pope Saint John Paul II was a pilgrim to Sri Lanka for the beatification of Father Joseph Vaz. It was the last leg of his 63rd apostolic voyage, on which he had also visited the Philippines (for World Youth Day Manila), Papua New Guinea & Australia.

After the Welcoming ceremony at Katunayake Airport on 20th January, Papa Giovanni Paolo II prayed the Liturgy of Vespers at the Cathedral of St Lucia in Colombo. On the Saturday, following a Meeting with representatives of other religions, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass for the Beatification of Father Joseph Vaz and met with the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka before bidding a fond fond farewell.

Pope John Paul II's address at the Welcome Ceremony
Katunayake International Airport, Colombo - 20 January 20 1995 - in English & Italian

"Madam President, Madam Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am deeply grateful to you, Madam President and Madam Prime Minister, and to all of you, for your warm welcome to Sri Lanka. For many years I had hoped to visit the "Pearl of the Indian Ocean", resplendent with natural beauty, the land of the Mahavansa, a nation proud of its ancient culture, a country known for its smiling, hospitable people, like my predecessor Pope Paul VI, 25 years ago. I come as a friend from Rome, where 2,000 years ago the venerable civilization which flourished in this country was known and esteemed. I come as a pilgrim of good will, with nothing but peace in my heart. I am keenly aware of your country’s rich spiritual heritage, shown not only by the strength of your religious traditions but also by the remarkable harmony and mutual respect which has flourished among the followers of the various religions.

2. I wish my visit to be a sign of my profound esteem for all Sri Lankans. In particular I express my highest regard for the followers of Buddhism, the majority religion in Sri Lanka, with its Brahmaviharas, the four great values of Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha: loving kindness, compassion, sympathy and equanimity; with its ten transcendental virtues and the joys of the Sangha expressed so beautifully in the Theragathas. I ardently hope that my visit will serve to strengthen the good will between us, and that it will reassure everyone of the Catholic Church’s desire for interreligious dialogue and cooperation in building a more just and fraternal world. To everyone I extend the hand of friendship, recalling the splendid words of the Dhammapada: "Better than a thousand useless words, is one single word that gives peace".

The fact that religion plays such an important part in the life of the Sri Lankan people is everywhere manifested in your many places of worship and shrines: Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. The events of daily life are coloured by a wide variety of religious observances. Religious beliefs inspire common values such as acceptance of others, dialogue, understanding in the search for truth.

3. It is my prayerful hope that as Sri Lanka strives for further social and economic development, your rich spiritual patrimony will help you to find a worthy balance between the pursuit of material progress, concern for the common good, and openness to the needs of the poor and the underprivileged. How urgently necessary it is for society to support families, to educate children in respect for others, and to defend the sacredness of life against every form of violence. May all Sri Lankans of good will be strong and persevering in their efforts to find a just and peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict which has scarred the life of the nation in recent times, with its victims, its destruction and its terrible aftermath of suffering. The most recent steps taken in this direction nurture the hope – which all people of good will share with you – that everyone involved will shun violence and will draw on your traditions of tolerance in pursuing a harmony born of reconciliation and full respect for the diversity of society’s members.

4. Tomorrow I shall gather in prayer with the Catholic community of Sri Lanka in order to celebrate the beatification of Father Joseph Vaz, a holy man and a man of peace, who won the respect of his contemporaries by his humility, goodness and tolerance. I am certain that in honouring the memory of this saintly priest, Sri Lanka’s Catholics will be inspired to continue to work for reconciliation and peace in a spirit of service to all their fellow–citizens and in solidarity with them.

In thanking the Supreme Authorities of the State for their warm invitation to visit Sri Lanka on this occasion, I wish to assure everyone, of whatever religious, ethnic or cultural background, that the beatification of the Servant of God Father Joseph Vaz, although principally a Catholic event, is at the same time a sincere tribute to the profound religious traditions of all the people of this land.

God bless Sri Lanka! May he grant you peace! (Sinhalese: long life!) (Tamil: greetings!)"

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's homily at the Liturgy of Vespers
Cathedral of St Lucia, Colombo - Friday, 20 January 1995 - in English and Italian

"My Brother Bishops, Dear Priests and Sisters, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. Our prayer this evening is one of joy and thanksgiving. This beautiful Cathedral of Saint Lucia, modelled upon Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is a symbol of our communion in the one faith, the faith which Peter and the other Apostles were sent to proclaim to all the world. As Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, I am truly happy to be able to visit the Catholic community of Sri Lanka and to confirm you in your dedication to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (cf Lk 22: 32). I am grateful to Bishop Edmund Fernando for his kind words on your behalf. I am also pleased to acknowledge the presence of distinguished representatives of the various Christian Communities established in Sri Lanka, and I thank them for wishing to share this Evening Prayer with us.

The seed of faith, planted on this Island by the first missionaries and revived through the tireless apostolate of Father Joseph Vaz, has borne abundant fruits of ecclesial life. Truly the Church in Sri Lanka has come of age! You are guided by a native hierarchy, served by many clergy, religious and lay leaders, and blessed with abundant vocations. Although you are a "little flock" (cf Lk 12: 32), you contribute much to the life of the nation by your spiritual witness and your achievements in many fields of service, especially in education and human development.

In giving thanks for these blessings, remember that God’s gifts are the foundation upon which each generation is called to build. Let us pray that tomorrow’s celebration in honour of Father Joseph Vaz will be an occasion for the Catholics of Sri Lanka to recommit themselves to living fully the faith for which their forefathers were willing to suffer so much. May Father Vaz be a perennial inspiration to the Church in Sri Lanka as she carries out her mission of bearing witness to the Gospel, which "is the power of God for salvation" (Rm 1: 16).

2. In the sacred text which we have just heard, we see how Jesus applied to himself the ancient prophecy of Isaiah, which foretold that the Messiah, filled with the Spirit, would preach the good news of God’s grace to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and peace where there was hostility and conflict (cf Lk 4: 21). To proclaim the message of salvation is the first priority of the Church’s life and the most important service which she renders to individuals and society (cf Redemptoris Missio, 44). Every other work which Christians carry out flows from and leads back to the Church’s commitment to evangelization, understood not only as the proclamation of a message but as the communication of a "new life" in the grace of Christ. Every aspect of the apostolate – education, healthcare, social service, solidarity, interreligious dialogue – is meant to manifest the love which the Father has given the world in Jesus his Son, the love which he pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (cf Rm 5: 5). Dear brothers and sisters, be joyful messengers of Christ, eager to share with others the new life you have received, in complete respect for the freedom and conscience of every individual. This witness is not always easy and it may often meet with rejection, but true disciples of Christ, like the Apostles, cannot fail to "speak about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4: 20).

3. Dear brother priests, your whole being is permeated by the sacramental configuration to the Lord which you received in Holy Orders. Centre your lives on Christ, the High Priest, whom you meet each day in the mysteries which you celebrate and administer. Your spiritual development must be marked by constant conversion – metànoia – and growth in the Lord’s image. The pillars of your interior life ought to be the Eucharist and Penance, for in these encounters with God’s grace you come to know most deeply both your own sinfulness and the efficacy of God’s infinite mercy. Your union with the Lord should be clearly visible to the faithful, who should know you as living signs of the transforming power of divine grace, just as Father Vaz was.

Your holiness of life is the indispensable condition for the authentic inculturation of the Gospel in this land of ancient religious traditions. Beware therefore of the temptation to allow the more immediate and practical aspects of your apostolate to take away from the time you need each day in order to "be with the Lord" (cf Mk 3: 14-15). Be renewed in your minds and hearts, so that you will increasingly think with the mind of the Church – sentire cum Ecclesia – seeing things with her eyes, and judging all things in the light of the surpassing power of Christ’s Cross. This is the encouragement which I wish to leave with you and all your fellow priests, especially those who are burdened by interior troubles or wounded in their hearts by the consequences of the sad conflict which has ravaged your beautiful land.

4. I am especially glad to meet so many men and women religious. Dear brothers and sisters, you are signs of God’s love, messengers of his Kingdom and witnesses to the joy which comes from following Christ with an undivided heart. Seek to draw nearer each day to the Lord, in a spirit of communion with all the members of his Body. As men and women consecrated to Christ, you must be examples of evangelical poverty, reflecting simplicity and self-denial in the way you live. Let your consecration be shown by your rejection of styles of life which go against the values of the Gospel.

A precious contribution to the growth of God’s Kingdom in Sri Lanka has been made by Religious involved in catechizing and educating young people. To co-operate with parents in passing on the faith, whole and entire, to the next generation is a fundamental act of evangelical love. It is a service which nothing else can replace. Likewise, your work of educating the young in schools and other centres is of vital importance for the future of the Church, as well as for the progress of society as a whole (cf Gravissimum Educationis). Because the service you offer to God’s people is so important in each particular Church, you rightly count on receiving encouragement and guidance from the Bishops, with whom you co-operate in the Lord’s vineyard.

Certain elements of division which exist in your society can present particular challenges to Religious Communities, communities which must be marked by harmony, fraternal love and unity. I wish to encourage you therefore to bear witness to true communion and peace, thus showing that you are all children of the same Father.

I wish to say a special word of paternal encouragement and gratitude to the members of the Contemplative Orders who, through their constant prayer and their total self-giving love, "impart a hidden apostolic fruitfulness" to the whole Church (Perfectae Caritatis, 7). Dearest sisters, continue to pray for the needs of the human family, which everywhere suffers hunger and thirst for many things, but most of all for God, who alone can quiet our restless hearts. And please pray for me too.

5. Dear members of the lay faithful: in the time of Father Vaz, the Church in Ceylon was able to survive persecution and flourish once more because of the fidelity of its laity. As individual men and women, and as members of lay movements and associations, your contribution to the Church’s mission is absolutely necessary, especially in the face of attitudes of secularism and materialism which are so contrary to the deep spirituality and respect for religious values which are part of your national heritage. Your specific task is to bring the light of the Gospel to your families and to the communities in which you live and work. In particular, as the Second Vatican Council pointed out, the laity "are called to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God" (Lumen Gentium, 30). Sri Lankan Catholics are being challenged to play their proper part in the Church, and to take the initiative in being a leaven of Gospel values in the worlds of business, the professions and politics. It is my hope that the forthcoming National Pastoral Convention, now in the preparatory stage, will help the laity and clergy alike to fulfil their respective roles and responsibilities within the Christian community. I hope that all will work together to face the challenges of this moment in the Church’s life in your land.

6. May the Lord to whom we raise our hearts in praise at this Evening Prayer grant all of you, the members of the Catholic community of Sri Lanka, the strength to recommit yourselves, in the spirit of your great apostle, Father Joseph Vaz, to the Church’s mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Father Vaz is an outstanding model for bishops, priests, religious and laity alike. His example of profound love of God and neighbour, his authentic piety and humility, his witness of evangelical poverty and his loving zeal for souls should be an inspiration to each of you, and to each of us.

This is "the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4: 19), the year in which the beatification of Joseph Vaz challenges every Sri Lankan Catholic to be deeply renewed in holiness and zeal for the Gospel. May Mary, Mother of the Church, to whom the Catholics of your country have always had a tender devotion, help you all to achieve this! Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And at the end I offer my gratitude to the Archbishop of Colombo for inviting us in this very beautiful Cathedral for this evening prayer, thank you very much."

Remarks of the Holy Father at the conclusion of the meeting:

"It is a very beautiful Cathedral, but one thing I observe, it is not very easy to enter. It is nor easy... You are very strong in faith and you are very strong... in attacking the Pope? no?
Beautiful hospitality. I admire greatly your hospitality. The hospitality of the Catholic community of Sri Lanka... I am very grateful."

JPII's words at a meeting with Representatives of other Religions
Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall, Colombo - 21 January 1995 - in English & Italian

"Distinguished Religious Leaders,
1. I am very pleased to have this opportunity during my visit to Sri Lanka to meet representatives of the various religions which have lived together in harmony for a very long time on this Island: especially Buddhism, present for over 2000 years, Hinduism, also of very long standing, along with Islam and Christianity. This simultaneous presence of great religious traditions is a source of enrichment for Sri Lankan society. At the same time it is a challenge to believers and especially to religious leaders, to ensure that religion itself always remains a force for harmony and peace. On the occasion of my pastoral visit to the Catholics of Sri Lanka, I wish to reaffirm the Church’s, and my own, deep and abiding respect for the spiritual and cultural values of which you are the guardians.

Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been fully committed to pursuing the path of dialogue and cooperation with the members of other religions. Inter-religious dialogue is a precious means by which the followers of the various religions discover shared points of contact in the spiritual life, while acknowledging the differences which exist between them. The Church respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.

2. The Catholic community hopes that through a continuing "dialogue of life" all believers will co–operate willingly in order to defend and promote moral values, social justice, liberty and peace. Like many modern societies, Sri Lanka is facing the spiritual threat represented by the growth of a materialistic outlook, which is more concerned with "having" than with "being". Experience makes it clear that mere technological progress does not satisfy man’s inner yearning for truth and communion. Deeper spiritual needs have to be met if individuals, families, and society itself are not to fall into a serious crisis of values. There is ample room for co–operation among the followers of the various religions in meeting this serious challenge.

For this reason, I appeal to you and encourage you, as the religious leaders of the Sri Lankan people, to consider the concerns which unite believers, rather than the things which divide them. The safeguarding of Sri Lanka’s spiritual heritage calls for strenuous efforts on the part of everyone to proclaim before the world the sacredness of human life, to defend the inalienable dignity and rights of every individual, to strengthen the family as the primary unit of society and the place where children learn humanity, generosity and love, and to encourage respect for the natural environment. Inter-religious co–operation is also a powerful force for promoting ethically upright socio–economic and political standards. Democracy itself benefits greatly from the religiously motivated commitment of believers to the common good.

3. Perhaps nothing represents a greater threat to the spiritual fabric of Sri Lankan society than the continuing ethnic conflict. The religious resources of the entire nation must converge to bring an end to this tragic situation. I recently had occasion to say to an international group of religious leaders: "violence in any form is opposed not only to the respect which we owe to every fellow human being; it is opposed also to the true essence of religion. Whatever the conflicts of the past and even of the present, it is our common task and common duty to make better known the relation between religion and peace" (JPII, Address for the Opening of the Sixth World Assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, 2). The only struggle worthy of man is "the struggle against his own disordered passions, against every type of hatred and violence; in short against everything that is the exact opposite of peace and reconciliation" (Message for the World Day of Peace 1992, 7).

4. Very dear esteemed friends: I am certain that the principles of mercy and non–violence present in your traditions will be a source of inspiration to Sri Lankans in their efforts to build a peace which will be lasting because it is built upon justice and respect for every human being. I express once more my confidence that your country’s long tradition of religious harmony will grow ever stronger, for the peace and well–being of individuals, for the good of Sri Lanka and of all Asia."

At the end of the meeting the Holy Father added the following words:
"And now I offer you a gift memorable of these days and of the meeting. I am very grateful for your presence and very grateful for this meeting with you that we are together... not against, but together!
Not to be together is dangerous. It is necessary to be together, to dialogue. I am very grateful for that. I see in your presence the signs of the goodwill and of the future, the good future, for Sri Lanka and for the whole world. And so I can return to Rome more hopeful. Thank you."

St John Paul II's homily at Mass for the beatification of Father Joseph Vaz
Galle Face Green, Colombo - 21 January 1995 - in English & Italian

"Praise the Lord all nations! Praise him, all peoples!" (Ps 118 (117), 1).

"Dear Sri Lankan brothers and sisters,
1. The Responsorial Psalm of today’s Mass speaks to the whole world, to every nation and people. The nations and peoples of the vast continent of Asia also are called to join in a chorus of praise to God. Today, in Colombo, I thank God for enabling me to add my voice to yours in this great symphony of praise, and to rejoice with you for the beatification of Father Joseph Vaz. I express my gratitude to everyone gathered here, to Archbishop Fernando, my brother bishops, the priests, religious women and men and all of you whose presence makes this joyful celebration possible. I greet the civil authorities and thank them for their presence at this ceremony.

This is a day of special happiness for Christ’s followers in Sri Lanka! From the very beginning of my pontificate, whenever I have had occasion to meet your bishops they have told me of your great desire to see Father Vaz raised to the honours of the Altar. Today Joseph Vaz, the apostle of Sri Lanka, has been proclaimed one of the Blessed in heaven. Sri Lanka’s Catholics, with gratitude for all that God has done in the history of his People on this Island, can truly repeat with the Psalmist: "His love for us is strong! His faithfulness is eternal!" (Ps 118 (117), 2).

2. Joseph Vaz is rightly considered the second founder of the Church in your country. From his native India he came, a dedicated priest of Jesus Christ, to this land of ancient spiritual traditions, a land steeped in respect for the Sanyasi, the man of holiness, the man of God. During the last few months, as I prepared for today’s beatification, my thoughts often turned to the respect for things spiritual which characterizes the peoples of Asia. This brought to mind the passage of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, which expresses the Church’s deep esteem for the ancient religions of Asia, and especially for Buddhism and Hinduism.

This is what we read in the document Nostra Aetate. The Church respects these religions because of their ability to instil deep religious meaning into the lives of their followers. Men and women look to the different religions for answers to the profound and troubling mysteries which surround human existence: Who is man? What is the meaning and purpose of our life? What is the origin and purpose of suffering? How do we attain true happiness? What is the meaning of death, and what is that ultimate mystery which surrounds and penetrates our whole being, the Mystery which is our origin and towards which we are always journeying? (cf Nostra Aetate, 1-2)

3. And now I read other texts from Gaudium et Spes, the Constitution Gaudium et Spes – part of that document. The Catholic Church "rejects nothing of what is true and holy in other religions, for she sees in them a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men" (Nostra Aetate, 2). At the same time she exists to proclaim that the fullest answer to life’s questions is found in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. He is the Eternal Word of the Father and the New Adam. Through him all things were made and in him all people find that light which is the life of the world (cf Jn 1: 3-4). Christ, by revealing the mystery of the Father and his Love, "fully reveals man to himself and makes clear his sublime calling" (GS, 22).

For this reason, the Church never ceases to proclaim that Jesus Christ is "the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn 14: 6), the One "in whom the fulness of religious life is found and in whom God has reconciled all things to himself" (Nostra Aetate, 2). Father Joseph Vaz came to this land in order to proclaim this same message. He preached the name of Christ out of obedience to the Truth and out of a desire to share with others the way that leads to eternal life.

4. Father Joseph Vaz was a great missionary priest, belonging to the unending line of ardent heralds of the Gospel, missionaries who, in every age, have left their own land to bring the light of the Faith to peoples not their own. Among those following in the footsteps of Saint Paul who became all things to all men for the sake of the Gospel (cf 1Cor 9: 22-23), the figure of Saint Francis Xavier shines before us as the great apostle of Asia and the universal Patron of the Missions. Father Vaz was a worthy heir of St Francis Xavier; he was also a true son of his native Goa, outstanding for its deep Christian and missionary traditions. Father Vaz was a son of Asia who became a missionary in Asia. The Church today needs more such missionary men and women among the different continents.

Who was Father Joseph Vaz? Above all, what moved him to come to Sri Lanka? The Gospel we have heard today sheds light on his missionary vocation. Jesus went about proclaiming the Kingdom of God in his native Galilee. People brought their sick to him and he healed them. He freed others from the grip of evil spirits. When he went off by himself to pray, people started looking for him. They did not want him to leave them. But he replied: "I must preach the Good News about the Kingdom of God in other towns also, because that is what God sent me to do" (Lk 4: 43).

Father Joseph strove to follow in the path of his Divine Master. He too had been sent by God in order to proclaim "a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace" (Roman Missal, Preface). Heeding the call of the Holy Spirit, he left his homeland to come to this country where the Church had had no priests for over three decades. He came here in absolute poverty and lived as a beggar, driven by a burning desire to draw people to Christ. Before he had even arrived he learned the Tamil language and later, when he was imprisoned in Kandy, he learned Sinhala, so as to make the name of Jesus Christ resound in the languages and culture of your country.

Joseph Vaz was on fire with faith. Guided by the example of his Divine Master, he travelled the whole Island, going everywhere, often barefoot, with a rosary round his neck as a sign of his Catholic faith. As a true disciple of Jesus, he endured innumerable sufferings with joy and confidence, knowing that in those sufferings too God’s plans were being fulfilled. His heroic charity, shown in a particular way in his selfless devotion to the victims of the epidemic in 1697, earned him the respect of everyone.

5. Dear brothers and sisters, Christians of Sri Lanka! What is the message of Joseph Vaz? Blessed Joseph should inspire you to be tireless and spirit-filled witnesses to the Gospel in your families and in your communities. In Baptism you were remade in the likeness of Christ and given a mission to proclaim prophetically his presence in the world. In Confirmation you were strengthened by the Holy Spirit and sent forth to profess your faith in word and deed. To some of you is addressed a further call: to be Asian missionaries to Asia. On the eve of the third Christian millennium, the whole Church is called to take up with fresh vigour the missionary mandate she received from Christ, and to meet the challenges of a new evangelization. Among the peoples of this continent, holiness will always be the first and most effective form of teaching the truths and values of the Gospel. Asia’s venerable traditions of silence, reflection, prayer, asceticism and self-denial will find their fullest meaning in a living encounter with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, an encounter which will certainly take place if you are people of deep personal holiness, filled with love and zeal for the Church and God’s Kingdom. Through your witness, "all the nations of the world will know that the Lord alone is God – that there is no other" (1Kings 8: 60).

6. In the first reading of today’s Mass, King Solomon prays: "May the Lord our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us, or abandon us; may he make us obedient to him, so that we will always live as he wants us to live" (1Kings 8: 57). These words call to mind how your ancestors in the faith joyfully received Father Vaz. At a time when the Catholic Church was banned and persecuted, and all her priests had been expelled, Sri Lanka’s Catholics did not lose heart. They remained faithful to the Gospel they had received. And God did not abandon them. Joseph Vaz could count on the laity in the task of rebuilding the Church in your country; he trained lay leaders to look after Christ’s scattered flock in the hour of difficulty.

Can we not see here a lesson for our own times? The Church in Sri Lanka needs fervent Catholics who are "obedient to God’s law, living as he would have us live, and keeping all his laws and commands" (1Kings 8: 58). She needs dedicated priests to proclaim the Gospel and celebrate the mysteries of our redemption; she needs Religious who are living signs of the joy which comes from total dedication to the Lord and his works. I should say that this joy I find in you, in your priests, your religious, men and women especially, I find this great joy of being Christian, being religious. There is also need for married couples whose faithful love will reflect the unbreakable bond of unity between Christ and his Church; there is a need for Christian parents who will be the first teachers of the faith to their children. The Church needs young people who will be apostles to their own generation: like the hundreds of thousands and millions of young people who gathered in Manila for the 10th World Youth Day and recommitted themselves to transforming the world around them according to the Gospel demands of justice, peace and love. Like Joseph Vaz, who freely shared the truth he had received, everyone who has received the gift of faith is called to share that gift with others.

7. "Praise the Lord who has given his people peace" (1Kings 8: 56).

My brothers and sisters: it is my ardent hope that the beatification of Father Joseph Vaz will inspire Sri Lankans to work with ever greater commitment for peace in this beloved country, to bring about a definitive end to the tragic violence which has cost so many lives.

Peace is the fruit of love! St Paul reminds us that our love is shown in the way we treat others. He says: "Love one another warmly... and be eager to show respect for one another... Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles and pray at all times" (Rm 12:10-12). These words which Paul wrote to the first Christians living in Rome are also the message of Blessed Joseph Vaz, a man known for his meekness and humility of heart. These words are addressed to you – and to all who earnestly strive for peace in this country. St Paul insists: "If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good" (Rm 12:17). This is God’s will for you. This is God’s will for Sri Lanka! Forgiveness, reconciliation, peace: this is the challenge before you: all of you, Sinhalese and Tamils – Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and all men and women of good will. This is the challenge before you all.

May the example of Father Joseph Vaz speak to your hearts. Father Joseph loved your nation and all its people. He welcomed everyone as a child of God. And because of this love his name is now invoked as a blessing, here in Sri Lanka and throughout the world. "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt 5: 9). When lasting peace comes, all Sri Lankans will be blessed and your country will be restored in its full dignity and greatness. May Almighty God achieve this through you. Amen.

May Almighty God through the intercession of Our Lady and of blessed Joseph Vaz achieve this through you."

Remarks of the Holy Father after the Apostolic Blessing:
"Dear brothers and sisters, priests, friends, my heart is filled with gratitude to God for all the beauty of this wonderful island and for its marvellous people. I am grateful to all of you for the unique welcome you gave me, for this splendid ceremony of beatification so deeply marked by the signs of your culture, by the dignity which distinguishes you as people. May blessed Joseph Vaz watch over you, over your families. May he intercede for the peace and harmony which you all desire and pray for. May Almighty God abundantly bless Sri Lanka.

Really I admire the beauty, the beauty of your land, the beauty and the nature of this island and the beauty of the human beings of all men and women and the beauty in all your gestures, your way of dressing, your participation in the liturgy. All that is very beautiful. Sri Lanka is a homeland of beauty. I thank God for this opportunity of having the possibility to meet Sri Lanka immediately.

I invite you to come to Rome sometime. Be beautiful and courageus and peaceful.
Thank you very much."

St JPII's words to the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Sri Lanka
Colombo - 21 January 1995 - in English & Italian

"Dear Brother Bishops,
1. My brief visit to Sri Lanka offers us this occasion to experience anew "the bonds of unity, charity and peace" which, since apostolic times, have constituted the relationship of the Church’s Bishops among themselves and with the Bishop of Rome (cf Lumen Gentium, 22). Our meeting is taking place in the atmosphere of joy brought to us by the Beatification of the Apostle of Sri Lanka, Father Joseph Vaz. Let us continue to give thanks to God through whom we too "have obtained access to this grace in which we stand" (Rom 5, 2).

By the gift of the Holy Spirit received in episcopal ordination, you were made "successors of the Apostles, who together with the Successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ and the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God" (LG, 18). This happy occasion for the Church in your country is also an occasion for you the Bishops to recommit yourselves to the work of teaching, sanctifying and guiding that part of God’s people entrusted to your ministry. That ministry involves a grave personal responsibility to be guardians and authentic teachers of the Catholic faith (cf LG, 25). The exercise of your apostolic authority in ensuring sound teaching in matters of faith and morals and fostering observance of Church discipline is therefore an essential part of your ministry, even when it constitutes the "burden" which the Lord lays on your shoulders (cf Mt 20, 12). In the name of Jesus Christ "the chief Shepherd" (1 Pt 5, 4), I wish to encourage you to intensify your spiritual leadership and to be fully united among yourselves, so that you may be found faithful as "overseers, caring for the Church of God" (cf Acts 20, 28).

2. Your responsibility for building up Christ’s Body demands that you should know the flock entrusted to you (cf Jn 10, 14). The faithful must be able to see their Bishop as "a true father who excels in the spirit of love and solicitude for all" (Christus Dominus, 16). They rightly look to you to guard and defend their faith, to shepherd them and strengthen them in the midst of the challenges and trials of daily Christian living. Take Blessed Joseph Vaz as the model of your ministry. He travelled the length and breadth of this island visiting the missions he had instituted. In this way he was able to guide, correct and confirm in the faith the "pusillus grex" which was struggling to survive in the midst of persecution.

There is no more effective way for you to show forth the Lord’s concern and his infinite love than to continue to meet your people personally on the occasion of your regular pastoral visits to parishes and other institutions. Your visitations will also foster closer contact and a spirit of trusting dialogue between yourselves and the clergy, religious and laity. The enduring spiritual fruitfulness of your personal presence in the midst of your priests and faithful cannot be overestimated.

3. The outstanding challenge facing the pastors of the Church in Sri Lanka is the renewal of evangelical zeal in all the baptized. The genuine renewal of the Church depends in the first place on the response of her members to the universal call to holiness. The witness of a joyful spiritual life is the best response both to secularization and to the spread of new religious sects, altogether distinct from the Catholic Church in their doctrines and methods. A spirituality based on God’s revealed word, nourished by the sacraments and exercised in all the Christian virtues, in no way detracts from attention to the world and the needs of the human family. Rather, as the Second Vatican Council states: "By this holiness a more human way of life is promoted even in this earthly society" (LG, 40). It is my hope that the forthcoming National Pastoral Convention, by providing a clear picture of the state of the Church in each diocese, will be able to indicate the priorities which the Catholic community should set itself in the coming years.

4. One concern which never changes is that of the spiritual and intellectual life of priests, "so that they can live holy and pious lives and fulfil their ministry faithfully and fruitfully" (CD, 16). The theme is vast and goes beyond the scope of these brief reflections. I would merely recall that since the Council there have been numerous interventions of the Magisterium, culminating in the Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Pastores Dabo Vobis' and recent documents of the Congregation for the Clergy. Continuing theological formation, and the permanent spiritual growth of priests, are urgent pastoral priorities for every diocesan bishop. As successors of the Apostles, you are likewise called to have a solicitude for the mission "ad gentes", acknowledging your responsibility for the Gospel outside the boundaries of your own dioceses and nation, and sharing your resources generously with others (cf AG, 38).

Moreover, worthy candidates for the priesthood need to be encouraged, selected and trained; trained above all to a life of prayer and of willing self–oblation in union with Christ the High Priest. While recognizing the importance of the duties entrusted to seminary authorities, the bishop remains "the first representative of Christ in seminary formation" (JPII, PDV, 65), and this serious personal responsibility, while it needs to be shared, must never be completely delegated. I confirm you in all that you are doing to ensure that your seminaries respond to the clear guidelines contained in the Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Pastores Dabo Vobis', which resulted from the 1990 Synod of Bishops.

5. There is no need for me to speak at length about the place which religious communities have in the life of the Church in Sri Lanka. I simply wish to invite you to exercise your ministry in their regard with all the love and concern of genuine pastors of souls. Help religious to preserve and develop their specific charism, which is God’s gift to each particular Church in which they exercise their apostolate. Encourage them to be always outstanding in their example of fidelity to the evangelical counsels according to the mind of the Church, whose teaching and laws on the consecrated life can certainly never be a hindrance to the prophetic impulse which lies at the heart of every religious vocation. In particular, I ask you to show fatherly concern and support for the many religious sisters, dedicated women who live their motherhood in the Spirit through total self–giving love for Christ the Spouse, whom they meet especially in the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, the young, the elderly and, in general, people on the edges of society (cf JPII, Mulieris Dignitatem, 21).

I would also invite you to continue to meet with the Conference of Major Superiors in a spirit of unbounded love for Christ’s Church, in order to better coordinate the participation of religious in the pastoral life of each Diocese and of the country as a whole, and to resolve matters of mutual concern.

6. The development of an ever more effective lay apostolate requires not only that priests and religious work closely with the laity but also that they encourage and help them to assume fully their specific task of renewing the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel. There is a need for continuing serious study of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and the Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Christifideles Laici' in order to foster the leadership of the laity in the spheres of business, education and civic life where they are present and competent. Likewise, every effort to teach and spread the Church’s social doctrine should be encouraged, so that the laity will have the vision and knowledge needed to face the many moral and ethical questions raised by an increasingly complex and technologically–based society.

7. Your efforts to uphold spiritual values and to apply the light of the Gospel to issues affecting the life of your nation are an immense service to the whole of Sri Lankan society. In the face of the ethnic tensions and conflicts affecting your country and the threats to human dignity and rights, you have a duty to speak out and to encourage all men and women of good will to seek the triumph of justice, truth and harmony.

In your multi–religious society, interreligious dialogue remains an important commitment for the Church at every level. Continue to "build bridges" of understanding and cooperation with the followers of other religions, especially in order to promote respect for human life and concern for honesty and integrity in all areas of socio–economic and political life, as well as in working for the cause of peace and solidarity between individuals and social groups. In this way too, the Church will bear effective witness to the Kingdom of God and the truth of the Gospel.

8. Dear Brother Bishops: as the Church in Sri Lanka moves towards the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, go forward with full trust in God’s Providence and build upon the pastoral achievements already attained. Support one another in fraternal solidarity and continue to work closely together in meeting your many pastoral challenges.

I will "thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the Gospel" (Phil 1, 3-5).

Commending you and your people to the protection and intercession of Mary, Mother of the Church, whom you love so dearly, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of joy and peace in Christ our Saviour."

Saint John Paul II's address at the Farewell ceremony
Katunayake International Airport, Colombo - 20 January 20 1995 - in English & Italian

"Madam Prime Minister, Dear Brother Bishops, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. My visit to Sri Lanka has come to an end, and I say farewell with sentiments of deep gratitude to everyone who has taken part in the events of these last two days. I thank Her Excellency the President, and you Madam Prime Minister, the members of the Government, as well as my Brother Bishops, for all that you have done to make my pilgrimage possible. To all the people of Sri Lanka I express my heartfelt thanks for your great kindness and hospitality. As I return to Rome, I will carry with me unforgettable memories of your beautiful Island and its friendly sons and daughters.

I came to Sri Lanka above all to honour Blessed Joseph Vaz, whom Catholics revere for his outstanding charity and his complete devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel. Like a star shining in the Asian sky, this great spiritual guide teaches us many lessons about the goodness of the human person and the nobility of our destiny as human beings. Father Vaz loved Sri Lanka and its people. From his place in heaven may he continue to watch over this Nation and its citizens.

2. As I leave Asia I confirm my profound esteem for the strong religious sense which marks many Asian societies. I am fully convinced that the time is ripe in human history for the followers of the various religions to seek a new respect for one another. In a world that is increasingly interdependent, there is great need for dialogue and cooperation among believers in order to build the future of the human family on the solid ground of respect for each person’s inalienable dignity, equal justice for all, tolerance and solidarity in human relations. All men and women of good will must work together to advance just such a civilization, recognizing the link between genuine democracy, respect for human rights and development. It is my ardent hope that Sri Lanka will continue to pursue this path, which surely is the one most in accord with its history and the genius of its people.

3. I appeal to all Sri Lankans, in the name of our common humanity, to work for reconciliation and harmony. I encourage the Government and all other parties involved to persevere in negotiating a just end to the conflict which has marred Sri Lankan life in recent years, to create the conditions for the return of refugees to their homes, and to continue resolutely in their efforts to promote the integral development of Sri Lankan society.

4. We Christians have recently celebrated the great Feast of Christmas, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the time when we repeat the angels’ hymn: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" (Lk 2:14). Peace is in fact a divine gift, but it is also a task, a challenge, a moral responsibility of the men and women of our time. It has always to be forged step by step. My parting wish for all Sri Lankans is that, like your Manel flower which, no matter its surroundings, opens up and blooms into its full glory in the light of the sun, true good and true peace will blossom on this beautiful Island because they flourish in the heart of each and every one of you.

God bless Sri Lanka! May peace be his gift to you!"



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