Pope Francis Calls for Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka


All Christians ask is for the freedom to carry out their mission, Pope Francis said in his homily at a Mass attended by a half million people.

The Church in Sri Lanka today “gladly and generously serves all members of society,” said Francis, and “makes no distinction of race, creed, tribe, status or religion in the service she provides through her schools, hospitals, clinics, and many other charitable works.”

“All she asks in return is the freedom to carry out this mission,” he said.

Sri Lanka has a history of religious strife, notably in the 26-year civil war where sides were drawn along religious lines, between the mainly Hindu Tamils and the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese. The war ended in 2009.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right,” said Francis. “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.”

The Pope also said that “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.”

During the Mass, Pope Francis canonized the first Sri Lankan saint, a missionary priest from Goa, India, named Joseph Vaz, who ministered to the people of Ceylon—modern day Sri Lanka—for nearly a quarter century.

Since Christians were under persecution, Joseph Vaz would dress as a beggar, and perform his priestly duties in secret meetings of the faithful, often at night. He was particularly devoted to serving the ill and suffering.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that the new saint “shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome