“I will come to see the pearl of the Indian ocean”- says Pope Francis
Sri Lankans met His Holiness pope Francis at St. Peter’s basilica, Rome in a special audience he offered to the migrant Sri Lankans living in Italy recently. It was the first time in history when the Vatican basilica remained closed for the rest of the pilgrims from morning till afternoon making room for a full day Sri Lankan program at the Vatican. The audience was an outcome of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s suggestion to His Holiness early last year concerning a special occasion to meet the pope as a nation at St. Peter’s basilica. The program began with the Eucharist of thanksgiving in Sinhala and Tamil presided over by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith together with bishops Harold Perera, the bishop in- charge of the Catholic migrants overseas, Winston Fernando, the bishop of Badulla, Valence Mendis, the bishop of Chilaw who concelebrated with the priests serving as chaplains to the Sri Lankan Catholic communities in Italy. Addressing the massive gathering that filled the basilica to capacity and referring to one of the country’s cherished appellations from of old, pope Francis made a strikingly creative use of pun when he said that the pearl of the Indian ocean is a lovely expression that captures the impression of the island’s geographical shape and its extraordinary beauty as a country richly blessed with natural resources on the one hand, while the pearl ,on the other hand, is supposed to be formed by the tears of the oyster . “Unfortunately many tears have been shed over the past thirty years”, the pope said, “on account of the internal conflict which incurred much damage to life and property. The passage is not easy, I know”, said the pope, “ to let the wounds heal and begin to collaborate with an erstwhile foe to construct together a common future, though there is obviously no other path to sustainable peace than hope of a better tomorrow, the relentless human desire for development and aspirations of peace for which a special prayer will rise to God from his heart, he assured. Pope reminded that in the past, Sri Lanka received especial God’s favour at the Second world war when the then Archbishop of Colombo, Mons.J. M. Masson knelt in prayer at Tewatte pleading for divine intervention against the imminent Japenese arial bombings where later Thomas Cardinal Cooray, his successor, the first Sri Lankan Archbisop erected the national basilica dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The basilica of our Lady of Lanka at Tewatte whose 75th anniversary of the consecration falls this year, remains a covenant of God with her pilgrim people in this part of the world which should serve as as a symbol of God’s perennial pact with all humanity that seeks with all their strength the path to true peace.The Sri Lankan government’s invitation extended to him to visit the country has been richly received, the pope added and asked the Sri Lankans to pray for the grace of realizing such project in the midst of carrying out his challenging daily task as the universal pastor of the Catholic faithful. Impressed by the local music he heard as he entered the basilica, pope Francis requested the people, at the end of his address, to sing to him in native languages a hymn of their choice. The congregation, in reciprocation, broke into loud singing in Sinhala and Tamil, ofma mauni athi premaneeya, a household Marian hymn loved by the Catholics, evoking similar emotion the devotees often evince at the concluding ceremonies at the shrine of Our Lady of Madhu. Pope Francis imparted his apostolic blessings to Sri Lankans living in Italy amounting to nearly150,000 who, in the main, work as domestics whose plight has been adversely affected by the ongoing world economic crisis and the lack of employment opportunities in Italy which render despondent the forlorn migrants fighting a desperate battle to remain hopeful on a foreign soil away from their fatherland as Cardinal Ranjith mentioned in his words to the Pope while thanking him for the great kindness and the gesture of friendship shown to all Sri Lankans by way of his presence among them on the occasion. Minsters Rajith Senaratne, Sarath Guneratne and Dayashritha Tissera with many other diplomats and distinguished guests represented the Sri Lankans at the Vatican. Mons. Neville Joe Perera, the national coordinator for the Sri Lankan Catholic migrants in Italy organized the ceremony for which over 12000 Sri Lankans arrived at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome from various parts of Italy.
REPORTED BY Fr. Deninton Subasinghe from Rome