“Mary never forgot her children on this resplendent island.” These were the words of the Holy Father during his visit to the Marian shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu.
The Pope departed to the north of Sri Lanka by helicopter to the shrine, which is located in an area that was the epicenter of the country’s 30 year civil war. Pilgrims, both Christian and non-Christian, found refuge there during the violent clashes between the rebel Tamils and government forces.
Upon his arrival, a floral arrangement was placed around the Pope’s neck and he was welcomed by various officials and Church authorities. He then boarded the Popemobile, greeted thousands of Sri Lankans who lined the streets to greet him.
Bishop Joseph Rayappu of Mannar, the diocese where the Shrine is located, welcomed the Holy Father saying that he was a “messenger of peace based on truth, justice and reconciliation.” He also thanked the Pope for his love for the poor and those who suffering.
For his part, Pope Francis reflected on the Virgin Mary’s welcoming presence in the Shrine to all Sri Lankans: Tamil and Sinhalese alike. He also recalled that presence during the violent civil war.
“There are families here today which suffered greatly in the long conflict which tore open the heart of Sri Lanka,” he said.
“But Our Lady remained always with you. She is the mother of every home, of every wounded family, of all who are seeking to return to a peaceful existence. Today we thank her for protecting the people of Sri Lanka from so many dangers, past and present. Mary never forgot her children on this resplendent island. Just as she never left the side of her Son on the Cross, so she never left the side of her suffering Sri Lankan children.”
The 78 year old Pontiff also stressed the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, which although difficult can only be understood in the light of the Cross.
“Only then can we receive the grace to approach one another in true contrition, offering and seeking true forgiveness,” he said. “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 at 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.”
Concluding his address, the Holy Father entrusted the Virgin Mary with the efforts of both Tamil and Sinhalese Sri Lankans to rebuild “the unity which was lost”. He also prayed that the Shrine could continue to be a place of prayer and peace.
“Through the intercession of Our Lady of Madhu, may all people find here inspiration and strength to build a future of reconciliation, justice and peace for all the children of this beloved land,” he said.
<p>The Pope ended the celebration by blessing the faithful present with a statue of the Virgin Mary as well as placing a rosary on the famed image.