Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tamil priest sees hope in Pope’s Sri Lankan visit

January 21, 2015

Visit of hope: Pope Francis greets the disabled before celebrating the canonisation Mass of St Joseph Vaz at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Photo: CNS

BRISBANE Tamil priest Dominican Father Pan Jordan has hailed Pope Francis’ recent visit to Sri Lanka as a potential inspiration to the country’s new government.

The Pope arrived soon after Maithripala Sirisena was elected president after Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to secure a third term in office.

“His visit could be a source of strength to the new government at a time of freedom from autocracy and (being) on a new path,” Fr Jordan said.

He said the visit was also hopefully a source of healing for the country as it recovers from decades of civil war.

“Pope Francis called on the Tamils and Sinhalese ‘to rebuild the unity which was lost’ during the war,” he said.

“Thus, the Pope on his visit was a peacemaker and peace-builder.”

Fr Jordan said the Pope’s visit had also offered the people of Sri Lanka and the country’s different religious communities the opportunity to show their goodwill to each other.

During the pontiff’s two-day trip earlier this month to Sri Lanka – which is about 70 per cent Buddhist, 13 per cent Hindu, 10 per cent Muslim and seven per cent Catholic – he stressed the role of religion to help ongoing reconciliation after the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 and killed up to 100,000 people.

Pope Francis’ canonisation of Sri Lanka’s first saint, the 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz, his visit to the remote shrine of the Virgin Mary in the northern Sri Lankan town of Madhu and his visit to a Buddhist temple were seen as significant events.

“When he visited the shrine, the Pope said: ‘No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place’,” Fr Jordan said.

“This sentiment has touched the hearts of the Tamil community since the political leaders of Sri Lanka have denied the catastrophe that took place in and around the shrine during the war.”

The Madhu shrine, containing a 400-year old statue of Our Lady, is the most venerated Catholic site on the island.

Fr Jordan said Pope Francis explained the road to reconciliation was about more than repairing infrastructure.

“A lot of money was spent on restoring the physical infrastructure in the north,” Fr Jordan said.

“But, as the Bible says, ‘Man does not live by bread alone’.

“Human beings value freedom and want to be treated as equals by the state and society.

“Even though the war is long over, the damage caused by the war still continues to exist in the form of displaced people still awaiting to be resettled, missing persons to be found, civilian rule to be restored and political rights to be obtained.”

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