The culminating moment of my stay in Sri Lanka was the
canonization of the great missionary, Joseph Vaz
. This holy priest administered the Sacraments, often in secret, to the faithful, but he helped all those in need without distinction. His example of holiness and love of neighbor continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka in its apostolate of charity and education. I pointed to Saint Joseph Vaz as a model for all Christians who today are called to propose the saving truth of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect for others, with perseverance and humility.
Sri Lanka is a country of great natural beauty whose people are seeking to rebuild unity after a long and tragic civil conflict. In my meeting with government authorities I emphasized the importance of dialogue, respect for human dignity, and the effort to involve everyone in finding suitable solutions ordered to reconciliation and the common good.
The different religions have a significant role to play in this respect. My meeting with religious leaders was a confirmation of the good relations that already exist between the various communities. In this context, I wished to encourage the cooperation already undertaken between the followers of the various religious traditions, also for the sake of healing with the balm of forgiveness those who still are plagued by sufferings of recent years. The theme of reconciliation also characterized my visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which is greatly venerated by the Tamil and Sinhalese populations and is a place of pilgrimage for members of other religions. In that holy place we asked our Mother Mary to obtain for all the people of Sri Lanka the gift of unity and peace.
From Sri Lanka I departed for the Philippines, where the Church is preparing to celebrate the 5th centenary of the arrival of the Gospel. It is the foremost Catholic country in Asia, and the Filipino people are well known for their deep faith, their religiosity and their enthusiasm, also in the diaspora. In my meeting with the national authorities, as well as in times of prayer and during the crowded closing Mass, I emphasized the continued fruitfulness of the Gospel and its ability to inspire a society worthy of man, where there is room for the dignity of each individual and the aspirations of the Filipino people.
The main purpose of the visit, and the reason I decided to go to the Philippines — the main reason — was to be able to express my closeness to our brothers and sisters who suffered the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda. I went to Tacloban, the region most severely affected, where I paid homage to the faith and resilience of the local population. In Tacloban, unfortunately, the adverse weather conditions caused another innocent victim: the young volunteer Kristel, who was overwhelmed and killed by scaffolding that had blown over by the wind. I also thanked all those from across the globe who have responded to their needs with a generous supply of aid. The power of God’s love revealed in the mystery of the Cross was made evident in the spirit of solidarity shown by the many acts of charity and sacrifice that marked those dark days.
The meetings with families and young people in Manila were defining moments of my visit to the Philippines. Good families are essential to the life of society. It is a consolation and hope to see so many large families that welcome children as a true gift from God. They know that every child is a blessing. I have heard it said by some that families with many children, and the birth of so many children, are among the causes of poverty. This seems to me a simplistic opinion. I can say, we can all say, that the principle cause of poverty is an economic system that has removed the human person from the center and has replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes, and excludes always: it excludes children, the elderly, young people without work — and that creates the throwaway culture in which we live today. We are used to seeing people discarded. This is the main reason for poverty, not large families.