Pontiff prays for healing and reconciliation with Sri Lankan people at Marian Shrine Our Lady of Madhu
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is visited by Catholics of both the Tamil and the majority Sinhalese communities.
Yet the Madhu Shrine has also been a symbol of unity not just between Tamils and Sinhalese, but between people of all faiths in Sri Lanka. Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims visit the shrine each year to pay homage to the 450-year-old shrine of the Virgin Mary, which dates back almost to the origins of Christianity on the island.
Catholicism was brought to the northern peninsula of Sri Lanka by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, under the direction of St. Francis Xavier. After the Dutch invasion and persecution of Catholics in 1670, a group of Catholic families fleeing the persecution, with the statue from their local Church, took refuge in Madhu where they established the shrine.
With the rebuilding of the Catholic faith in the 17th century by saintly missionaries such as St. Joseph Vaz, the shrine was expanded, and through the centuries, came to be considered the holiest and most visited Marian pilgrimage on the island.
Yet the the Church of Madhu, located in a wildlife preserve in the north of the island, was also once in the heart of the conflict zone of Sri Lanka’s civil war.
When Pope John Paul visited Sri Lanka in 1995, the Church was inaccessible due to the outbreak of war. Four years later the Church was attacked, leaving 38 dead, including 13 children. Yet the statue of Our Lady of Madhu was left unharmed.
At the climax of the civil war, following sharp clashes between government security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam, the statue of Our Lady of Madhu was removed from the shrine until it could safely be restored.
Pope Francis’ visit may therefore be remembered by the Sri Lankan people as one of the most poignant symbols of hope and healing in a country riven by ethnic and religious tensions.
In his address, the Pope said to the country’s people: “We are in our Mother’s house. 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.”
Recalling the nation’s bitter 26-year civil war, he then added: “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.”
“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 a 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.”
Pope Francis concluded, saying: “Finally, we want to ask Mother Mary to accompany with her prayers the efforts of Sri Lankans from both Tamil and Sinhalese speaking 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."
Here below we publish the full text of Pope Francis’ address.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are in our Mother’s house. 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 his tender mercy, the tender mercy of God.
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