Pope Francis today pointed to three lessons to be taken from the Church’s newest canonized saint, Joseph Vaz, a missionary to Sri Lanka, and the island nation’s first canonized saint.
The Pope spoke of St. Joseph Vaz during a Mass for canonization that he celebrated this morning (local time) in Colombo.
He spoke of the life of the saint (1651-1711), a priest of the Oratory in his native Goa, who because of religious persecution, “dressed as a beggar, performing his priestly duties in secret meetings of the faithful, often at night. His efforts provided spiritual and moral strength to the beleaguered Catholic population.”
The Pontiff noted particularly the saint’s desire to minister to the sick and to serve the suffering.
He then went on to speak of three reasons that the saint is an “example and a teacher.”
“First, he was an exemplary priest,” the Pope said. “[…] He teaches us how to go out to the peripheries, to make Jesus Christ everywhere known and loved. He is also an example of patient suffering in the cause of the Gospel, an example of obedience to our superiors, an example of loving care for the Church of God.”
The Holy Father said St. Joseph lived, as we do, in a “period of rapid and profound transformation; Catholics were a minority, and often divided within; 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.”
The second lesson the Pope drew from St. Joseph applies directly to the Sri Lankan society, on a path of reconciliation after decades of civil war.
The Church on the island, while a small minority, has a unique role to play given that both Sinhalese and Tamils form part of the Catholic community.
“Saint Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace,” the Pope said. “His undivided love for God opened him to love for his neighbour; he ministered to those in need, whoever and wherever they were.”
Francis said that the Church in Sri Lanka today is following the saint’s example, making “no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works.”
“All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he stated. “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.”
Reverence for others
Thirdly, the Pope spoke of St. Joseph Vaz as a zealous missionary, characterized by his respect for others.
“Saint Joseph knew how to offer the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in a multi-religious context, with respect, dedication, perseverance and humility,” he said. “This is also the way for the followers of Jesus today. We are called to go forth with the same zeal, the same courage, of Saint Joseph, but also with his sensitivity, his reverence for others, his desire to share with them that word of grace (cf. Acts 20:32) which has the power to build them up. We are called to be missionary disciples.”
The Pope concluded by expressing a prayer 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 is what Christ asks of you,” he said. “This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you.”
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