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.
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.