BUDDHIST TEMPLE’S HIGHEST HONOR
Pope Francis made a last-minute change to his schedule late Wednesday to visit an important Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka’s capital, becoming only the second pontiff to visit a Buddhist place of worship after St. John Paul II paid his respects at a temple in Thailand in 1984.
Monks at the Agrashravaka Temple opened a casket containing important Buddhist relics, an event that usually only takes place once a year. The head monk at the temple, Banagala Upatissa, said opening the relics was “the highest honor and respect” they could show to the pontiff.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, was asked Wednesday if Francis might alter his schedule in the Philippines as a result of a tropical storm brewing in the Pacific that is heading toward the eastern coast.
“We hope there is not a hurricane, that it is only rain,” Lombardi said. “If there is only rain, the pope has no fear of the rain — we see him in St. Peter’s Square, he is ready to be in the rain! We hope it is not a particularly hard situation, but we will see.”
Sri Lanka’s holiest Christian site, the Our Lady of Madhu shrine, has a remarkable, centuries-long history as a place of refuge for Christians fleeing war and persecution.
During the 25-year civil war that wracked Sri Lanka, civilians sought refuge in the shrine, though in the war’s final months the villages surrounding Madhu emptied out as residents fled deeper into rebel territory to escape the government offensives. At one point, the priest in charge of the shrine fled for safety with the statue, but both returned.
On Wednesday, Francis cradled the statue in his arms.
“Let us ask that this shrine may always be a house of prayer and a haven of peace,” he said.
Pope Francis headed by helicopter to a well-known Catholic shrine in Madhu, a tiny town in Sri Lanka’s north that was often controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels — and often a scene of violence — during the country’s 25-year civil war.
Mary Conseeta’s two teenage brothers were killed when their school bus hit a roadside bomb in 2008. Conseeta, now 22, escaped with a leg wound. Sri Lankan forces that secretly entered the rebel area were blamed for the attack.
Sri Lanka’s Catholic bishops knew exactly what they wanted when asked what gift they’d like from Pope Francis to commemorate his visit: a high-quality replica of a 1694 decree issued by the king of Kandy — then an independent state on the island — saying he didn’t oppose the conversion to Christianity of Sinhalese Buddhists.
The decree was presented to Pope Leo XIII well over a century ago by the then-archbishop of Colombo. Now — amid increasingly loud demands by extremist Buddhists seeking an all-Buddhist Sri Lanka — the bishops wanted the decree crystalizing religious freedom back home.
It adds that Christian ministers “are authorized to build churches where there are Christian faithful and to carry out whatever is necessary to promote their religion.”
3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT JOSEPH VAZ
Pope Francis canonized the Indian-born Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka’s first saint during a Wednesday morning Mass in Colombo attended by more than a half million people.
- Vaz, a 17th century missionary to Sri Lanka from what was then the Portuguese colony of Goa, sometimes worked in secret, dressing up as a laborer or beggar so he wouldn’t be arrested by the island’s hard-line Calvinist colonial rulers.
- Catholic tradition says Vaz miraculously brought rain to the independent kingdom of Kandy, in central and eastern Sri Lanka, during a major drought. As a result, Kandy’s king gave Vaz protection and allowed him to work there openly.
- The first calls to have Vaz made a saint came soon after he died, in 1711, in Kandy.
Exemplary priest: “He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved.”
THE POPE — 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.”
A SAINT FOR SRI LANKA — AND INDIA
The pope canonized Joseph Vaz as Sri Lanka’s first saint, but Vaz 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. Bells were to 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 Jan. 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.
When Pope Francis canonized Sri Lanka’s first saint on Wednesday, he again proved he has little tolerance for pointless rules, skirting 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 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 he firmly believes the faithful need more models of holiness without the technical, time-consuming and costly process of confirming inexplicable miracles.
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.
Source: Yahoo News
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Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils – 1 Timothy 4:1 (KJV).
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction – 2 Peter 2:1 (KJV).
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry – 2 Timothy 4:3-5 (KJV).
Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: -2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 (KJV).