Pope Francis: social flourishing needs religious freedom
(Vatican Radio) Religious freedom and Gospel witness in the service of reconciliation were the themes of Pope Francis’ homily on Wednesday morning, at Mass on Galle Face Green, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, during which the Holy Father canonized Saint Joseph Vaz (1651-1711) – an Oratorian missionary priest, who preached the Gospel there during the time of Dutch Calvinist dominion over much of the island.
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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.
The Holy Father also celebrated three great virtues of St Joseph Vaz, offering him to the whole Church as an example of priestly holiness, of missionary zeal, and of the life of witness lived in the service of reconciliation, justice and peace.
In Saint Joseph we see a powerful sign of God’s goodness and love for the people of Sri Lanka. But we also see in him a challenge to persevere in the paths of the Gospel, to grow in holiness ourselves, and to testify to the Gospel message of reconciliation to which he dedicated his life.
As a priest of the Oratory in his native Goa, Saint Joseph Vaz came to this country inspired by missionary zeal and a great love of its people. Because of religious persecution, he 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. He had a particular desire to serve the ill and suffering. His ministry to the sick was so appreciated by the king during a smallpox epidemic in Kandy that he was allowed greater freedom to minister. From Kandy, he could reach out to other parts of the island. He spent himself in missionary work and died, exhausted, at the age of fifty-nine, revered for his holiness.
In conclusion, Pope Francis prayed that, following the example of Saint Joseph Vaz, the Christians of Sri Lanka might today be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society. “This,” he said, “is what Christ asks of you: this is what Saint Joseph teaches you; this is what the Church needs of you.”