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    Pope Francis arrives to lead mass in Colombo

    Pope Francis Canonizes Sri Lanka’s First Saint, Urges Unity

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    Pope Francis has canonized Sri Lanka’s first-ever saint during a Mass in the capital city of Colombo, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered to hail the Pontiff.

    MOSCOW, January (Sputnik) — Wednesday’s seaside service to canonize the 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz was held two days after the Pope arrived in Sri Lanka, in the first papal visit to the island nation in two decades, the BBC reports.

    During the Mass, Pope Francis urged Sri Lanka's citizens to follow the example of Joseph Vaz by uniting and learning to overcome their religious divisions.

    Sri Lanka's newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena waves as he leaves the Department of Election office after the election commissioner officially declared him as the new President on January 9, 2015 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
    © Fotobank.ru/Getty Images/ Buddhika Weerasinghe
    “Saint Joseph embodied a challenge to testify to the gospel message of reconciliation, to which he dedicated his life and showed the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace,” the Pope said.

    “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 conviction,” he added.

    As for the canonized saint, he was an Indian-born missionary who has been credited with re-establishing the Catholic Church on the island.
    Joseph Vaz travelled from village to village, ministering to Catholics from both of the country's ethnic groups: the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese. He disguised himself as a beggar because the Dutch had banned Catholic priests from coming to Sri Lanka.

    Some in the country reacted angrily to his canonization; about 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, while another 13% are Hindus and 10% are Muslims. Around 7% of Sri Lanka's population is Christian; most of them are Catholic, and they include both Sinhalese and Tamils.

    The Pontiff’s visit to Sri Lanka, part of his six-day tour of Asia, took place amid political upheaval in the country. Its former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been replaced; President Maithripala Sirisena took office last Friday.

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