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Pope Francis Canonizes “Apostle to Sri Lanka”: Oratorian Priest Joseph Vaz

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Pontiff extols new saint as a living icon of God’s mercy and reconciling love

Pope Francis today canonized Sri Lanka’s first saint, Oratorian Priest Joseph Vaz, at a Mass celebrated at the Galle face green, a half kilometer stretch along the Sri Lankan coast, in the heart of the island nation’s capital of Colombo.

Bells chimed and the Sri Lankan faithful rejoiced as, in Latin, Pope Francis declared: “We declare and define Blessed Joseph Vaz to be Saint and we enroll him among the Saints, decreeing that he is to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”

Joseph Vaz, born of devout parents in Goa on April 21,1651, was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Goa in 1676. He joined a small community of Indian priests in 1684 and helped to found the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Goa. On hearing of the plight of the Catholics in Ceylon under the Dutch calvinist persecution, Fr. Vaz travelled to Sri Lanka disguised as on ordinary laborer in 1687. He labored for 24 years to rebuild the Church in Sri Lanka. Worn our by his missionary efforts and afflicted by illness, Fr. Vaz died in Kandy on January 16, 1711 at the age of 59.

Pope John Paul II beatified him on January 21, 1995, during his apostolic visit to Sri Lanka.

In his homily, Pope Francis extolled St. Joseph Vaz as an “exemplary priest” who lived in a period of rapid and profound transformation and teaches us “to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved”.

“Catholics were a minority, and often divided within,” the Pope said. “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.”

Pope Francis also pointed to Sri Lanka’s first saint as a model of holiness, who “shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace”. St. Joseph Vaz’s  undivided love for God, he said, led him to minister to everyone in need irrespective of their differences.

But Pope Francis also told the Sri Lankan faithful that the Church’s religious liberty to carry out her mission to those in need must not be obstructed.  

“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.”

Pope Francis’ comments to some 500,000 Sri Lankans gathered for the canonization Mass echo his frequent call of support for Christian minorities who are being persecuted around the world. His comments are likely to resonate deeply in Sri Lanka, where ethnic and religious tensions are still felt after a bloody civil war that lasted nearly 30 years.

The Pope concluded his homily with the hope that the Christians of Sri Lanka might be confirmed in faith and “make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society.”

“This,” he told the Sri Lankan faithful, “is what Christ asks of you. This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you.”

Here below is the full text of the Pope’s homily.

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“All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (Is 52:10)

This is the magnificent prophecy which we heard in today’s first reading. Isaiah foretells the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the earth. This prophecy has a special meaning for us, as we celebrate the canonization of a great missionary of the Gospel, Saint Joseph Vaz. Like countless other missionaries in the history of the Church, he responded to the Risen Lord’s command to make disciples of every nation (cf. 

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