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Elections and papal visit in Sri Lanka

If you have been following the international news, you might have heard that Sri Lanka had a national election on Jan. 8 which had the surprising result of the the people voting out the current government.

Best of all, a group of official Asian observers highly commended Sri Lankans for a fair and peaceful election. I found myself taking a sense of pride in the whole thing. My housemates, who felt that the current president had little concern for the needs of the people, were jubilant.

You might also know that Pope Francis I visited Sri Lanka Jan. 13-15. He arrived on the 13th at Colombo airport which is about 45 minutes north of here. Every parish in the nation sent a delegation of people to stand along the route from the airport to Colombo to wave flags and cheer as he passed by.

Sister Felicita and two of the novices went with our parishioners and came back with an enthusiastic report. I stayed home with the other two novices and watched on TV. It was quite moving.

Later in the day, Francis met with the leaders of the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians of Sri Lanka. The chief leaders of each religion were on the stage with Francis but the hall was packed with other dignitaries. Because many were wearing their ceremonial dress, the audience was quite colorful. This online story gives you an overview of the trip and an idea of some of the color.

I went to the big event on Jan. 14, a papal Mass at Galle Face Green, an expanse of beach often used for such gatherings. The pope celebrated Mass and also canonized Joseph Vaz. Father Vaz was a priest from Goa, India who came to Sri Lanka under cover during the Dutch persecution of Catholics here. Again, rather than tell you the whole story, here is a link if you want to read about him: http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/01/14/joseph-vaz-indian-mistaken-as-spy-and-sri-lankas-first-saint/.

I knew when I agreed to go that it would be a grueling day, and indeed it was. But rather than dwell on the early morning rising, the standing in lines, the crowds, the long walk afterward to find transportation home, let me share all the good things of the day.

Galle Face Green was more beautiful than I had anticipated. Women religious had a special area, under a huge cloth roof, which protected us from the sun. The area faced not only the stage but also the Indian Ocean. News reports stated that over 500,000 people were present. Note that Sri Lanka has a little over 20 million people and about 7 percent are Catholic. So there are at most 1.5 million Catholics in the country.

Here are the sisters from Sri Lanka at the papal Mass on Jan. 14.

Here are the sisters from Sri Lanka at the papal Mass on Jan. 14.

Now, for sure, some of the crowd was not Catholic and some were from India, the home of Joseph Vaz, but still, my mathematical estimation is that about 25 percent of the Catholics on the island were present. Imagine!

The event started promptly at 8:30 and was finished by 10:30. The music was incredibly beautiful and the pope’s sermon was very meaningful (and short and in English!). At the end of Mass, the Cardinal gave a few words of thanks and ended with a special thank you to the pope, delivered in Italian. For whatever reason, this effort touched me deeply. I was not able to get many pictures of value but I wanted to give you some idea of the crowd.

The pope left Colombo later in the morning and went north to Madhu to a highly reverenced shrine of Our Lady. The north was most affected by the country’s 26-year-long civil war. The fighting officially ended in 2009 and much work remains to be done to bring the two sides together. Here especially, the pope emphasized the need for reconciliation, but this was the theme of his message in every one of his speeches.

So indeed we are now back to “ordinary time” not only on the liturgical calendar but also in our daily lives. School is back in session and I am back to the daily teaching schedule. I have only two more months here, departing on March 19. I have some sightseeing trips planned. I am sure that the remaining time will speed by all too quickly.

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Sister Rosemary Schmalz

Sister Rosemary Schmalz

Sister Rosemary ministered 38 years teaching mathematics and training future teachers of mathematics. After retiring from this ministry, she served as General Secretary for seven years. Currently, she updates the Congregation's member database, serves when needed at Linden Leaf Gifts, experiments with vegan recipes, and dabbles in art.

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  1. Avatar Pete Voelz on January 16, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Sister Rosemary,
    What a wonderful experience and report–unforgettable! You are so lucky to be there just when Pope Francis came. And what nice pictures. I’m so glad you went to Sri Lanka and did this beautiful mission work. You remind me of St. Mother Theodore Guerin saying, “We cannot do our work if we all stay in the nest.” You were right to answer the call to your adventurous side and just go there. I’m sure they have all benefitted so much from your visit and teaching. You are such a remarkable sister and lady, and I admire you so much. Hang in there and build up the memories–keep a good record in journaling and pictures. Thanks for your missives to us all. God bless you and your work.

  2. Avatar Suzy O'Neil Reed on January 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Sister Rosemary,
    Oh my, thank you so much for sharing this profound experience and this part of history with us. So grateful that you answered the call to go to Sri Lanka! I know you have touched many hearts, and have spread joy and love by teaching the youth, and inspiring them more than you may ever realize! …and then to be there when Pope Francis came to Sri Lanka is a culmination of your awesome, challenging and rewarding experience!

    Thanks for being YOU, and sharing your journey with us!

    Suzy O’Neil Reed

  3. Avatar Joni on January 16, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Thank you Rosemary for sharing you amazing experience with us.
    Wow ! Pope Francis and You in Sri Lanka. How cool is that?
    Sending you prayers and love.
    Know this novice misses you and is patiently awaiting your return.

  4. Avatar Bill Hughes on January 17, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. How exciting the pope’s visit must have been. We eagerly anticipate your return in March and will want to hear more about your time there. Hope you can re-join the UCM book group. I am forwarding this report to them


  5. Avatar Carolyn Kessler, SP on February 12, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Your reporting of your time in Sri Lanka is just wonderful. Not only am I delighted that you have this opportunity to explore a new part of the world but also that all of us are getting a little peek into an area unknown to most of us. I would love to be there co-teaching ESL with you. Just know how much I support your efforts and know that you are doing splendid work. This turned out to be an amazing time to be in Sri Lanka with the visit from Pope Francis! And do be sure to save time for those little excursions before you come home. Meanwhile, I look forward to your continued blogs.

    Lovingly in Providence,

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