POPE WATCH: Pope says 1st Sri Lanka saint still sets example

AP News
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Posted: Jan 13, 2015 11:56 PM
POPE WATCH: Pope says 1st Sri Lanka saint still sets example

Pope Francis is in the second day of a weeklong visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Here are some glimpses of his trip as it unfolds:

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IN HIS WORDS: FRANCIS ON JOSEPH VAZ

In his canonization Wednesday morning of Sri Lanka's first saint, Pope Francis cited three reasons why Joseph Vaz sets an example, even today:

— Exemplary priest: "He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved."

— Transcending religious divisions: "His example continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka today. (The Church) gladly and generously serves all members of society. She makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion."

— Missionary zeal: "I pray that, following the example of Saint Joseph Vaz, the Christians of this country may be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society."

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THE POPE — IN PERSON

Mothers carried babies and young people helped elderly relatives as the last of thousands of people streamed onto Galle Face Green, the seaside park where Pope Francis was celebrating Mass on Wednesday morning. The crowds poured off buses and from the nearby railway station. Security was tight, and everyone had to walk the last few hundred meters (yards), but the feel was festive, and taxi drivers were handing out free cups of tea.

Sure you could stay home and watch it all in comfort. But that, they said, could not capture the feel of being there in person.

"With today's advanced technology, you can see him on television and on the Internet," said Kolitha Fernando, a retired clerk from the hill town of Kandy. "But to see him with your naked eyes, that's a great feeling and a privilege for a Catholic."

— By Bharatha Mallawarachi, AP writer, Colombo

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A SAINT FOR SRI LANKA — AND INDIA

The pope will canonize Joseph Vaz on Wednesday as Sri Lanka's first saint, but he was actually born an Indian in 1651 in what was then the Portuguese colony of Goa.

Vaz spent 23 years ministering to the Catholic community in Sri Lanka, sometimes working in secret because of the threat of persecution by the island's Dutch rulers, who were die-hard Calvinists.

Today, Goa is an Indian state famous for its centuries-old churches, beautiful beaches and hordes of tourists. Catholics still make up about one-quarter of Goa's population of 1.5 million. On Wednesday, bells will toll in the state's churches and cathedrals at the time of Vaz's canonization, church officials said.

Manuel Ubaldo Dias, a Goa church official, said prayers to commemorate the sainthood would also be held there on January 16, the day traditionally celebrated in Vaz's honor.

"This is a great day for us. Something we have been waiting for years," Dias said.

— By Nirmala George, AP writer, New Delhi — Twitter: http://twitter.com/NirmalaGeorge1

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WAITING OVERNIGHT

Some Sri Lankans aren't taking any chances on getting a good view of the pope for the highlight of his two-day visit to their country: an open air Mass and canonization of Vaz.

Hundreds camped out overnight on the oceanfront field where the service will be held, spending the night under the stars.

For 21-year-old hairdresser Rosemary Barbara Carter, the discomforts of a night on hard ground were a small price to pay for what she hoped to gain.

"I came here so early to get a better view and hoping I can get a better blessing from him," she said.

— By Shonal Ganguly, AP videojournalist, Colombo, Sri Lanka — Twitter: http://twitter.com/ShonalGanguly

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WHAT MIRACLE?

When Pope Francis canonizes Sri Lanka's first saint on Wednesday, he'll again prove he has little tolerance for pointless rules as he skirts the Vatican's normal saint-making regulations. While the church traditionally requires two miracles for sainthood, the Vatican never confirmed a second attributed to the intercession of Vaz, who is credited with reviving Catholicism during anti-Catholic persecution by Dutch colonizers.

Rather, Francis simply signed off on a decision taken by the Vatican's saint-making office that Vaz warranted canonization. It's the same thing Francis did for a far better-known new saint, Pope John XXIII, and is a sign that Francis firmly believes that the faithful need more models of holiness without the technical, time-consuming and costly process of confirming inexplicable miracles.

— By Nicole Winfield, AP writer, Colombo, Sri Lanka — Twitter: http://twitter.com/nwinfield

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DRUMS AND CHANTS

Sri Lanka's religious stripes were all on colorful display for a meeting of representatives of the major faiths on the island. Traditional Hevisi drummers set the scene, followed by Buddhist chants, Hindu and Muslim benedictions, an ecumenical prayer by an Anglican bishop, then speeches by a Buddhist monk and the pope. The scene was far different in 1995 when Buddhist leaders boycotted John Paul's visit to protest his criticism of the Buddhist concept of salvation. In a sign of belonging, Francis sported a saffron-colored robe over his shoulders. Such robes are a cultural sign of honor among Tamils, a mainly Hindu ethnic minority in Sri Lanka.

The Muslim representative at the meeting, Ash-Sheikh M.F.M Fazil, used his speech to condemn the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Extremists have used many religions as a shelter to cover their own evil deeds and lies, he said. "We need to understand each others' faiths" and support each other to build a healthy nation, the sheik said.

— By Nicole Winfield, AP writer, Colombo, Sri Lanka — Twitter: http://twitter.com/nwinfield

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QUICKQUOTE: 'A TURNING POINT IN THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY'

The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, the country's main Muslim political party, spoke in a statement about how Pope Francis' visit could affect its efforts to end anti-Muslim bigotry, particularly after last week's upset in the country's presidential elections.

"We hope that His Holiness' presence, advice and example will help make this critical opportunity in our democratic history a turning point in the struggle for equality, justice and freedom. We also hope that it will renew our society's commitment to compassion, peace and virtue."

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BY THE NUMBERS

Catholics make up slightly more than 6 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 21 million, according to the government. They are by far the largest Christian denomination in the country. Other Christians make up just 1.3 percent of the population, which is mostly Buddhist.