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Sunday, 11 January 2015





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Warm welcome for Pope Francis

Hot on the heels of a crucial election which saw the country’s Executive powers moving from one camp to another, Sri Lanka is preparing for another grand event, the visit of Pope Francis the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church.

Pope Francis visit from January 13 to 15, is eagerly awaited not only by the Catholics in Sri Lanka but by people of every faith in this tiny island nation. For one thing the visit by the Holy Father has contributed to smoothen post election tensions while compelling everyone to tone down the victory celebrations.

Director Information and Media Secretariat for the Holy Father’s visit Fr. Cyril Gamini Fernando told the Sunday Observer that Pope Francis visit is a great honour for Sri Lanka because he chose to visit a tiny island, where Catholics are a minority. He will visit the Philippines, despite there being much bigger and stronger countries in Asia.

“Sri Lanka is a very small country but the Pope accepted our invitation and that itself is a great honour for us,” Fr. Fernando said.

The first invitation for Pope Francis, who has been dubbed the People’s pope by devotees world over, was extended when Sri Lankan Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith attended the conclave in Vatican as a Cardinal-elector to elect the Pope in March 2013.

“Cardinal Ranjith, just after the election of pope Francis and before he appeared in the balcony, has approached and invited the Pope to undertake a visit to Sri Lanka. The Pontiff after accepting the invitation had said the Lord will give me the grace to do so,” Fr. Fernando said.

Subsequently a formal invitation was handed over to the Vatican by the Sri Lankan Catholic Bishops Conference. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and first Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa flew to Vatican personally to extend an invitation to the Pontiff October last year.

The first announcement by the Vatican of the intended visit to Sri Lanka and Philippines was made late last year.

Madhu Shrine

The technical preparations, seem to have exceeded the preparations by the Church for the much anticipated visit, close on the heels of a hotly contested Presidential election.

The Sri Lanka Navy is entrusted with the technical preparations at the Galle Face Green where a Holy Mass and canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz as the country’s first saint will take place.

Fr. Fernando said the location and the positioning of the stage at the Galle Face Green has been made after a detailed study to avoid the devotees being exposed to the sun. The Defence Ministry has done a survey to calculate the number of people that can be accommodated on the site. The wind direction and sound clarity has also been taken into consideration.

The stage, representing Sri Lankan culture and identity is built on Vatican requirements for such a ceremony. It will be decorated with traditional local art forms, Christian iconology and symbols. On either side of the stage, two parabolic huts will be erected to accommodate 1000 concelebrating priests.

The stage where the main altar dais is placed will be covered by a Kandyan style roof.

The four columns on either side of the Papal chair where the Pope will be seated are decorated with the symbols of the four evangelists and the iron wood flower. It is the flower symbolising devotion to Our Lady of Lanka.

In between the columns, there will be traditional Kandyan sun arches with a crucifix in the central arch. A further 12 columns supporting the roof of the stage will be decorated with the figures of the Apostles.

Among the other painstaking details of the stage, the Church has chosen maroon and gold, considered royal colours according to local tradition, to be used for the decorations. On the front path and the steps leading to the Papal chair will be 12 punkalas, representing the 12 dioceses of Sri Lanka.On either side of two flights of steps there will be Korawak Gal balustrades in the form of a head and trunk of an elephant. It will remind the power of Fr. Joseph Vaz to subdue wild elephants.

Something of great significance in the preparations is the altar table. Fr. Fernando said the altar table used for the Galle Face Green Mass is the same table used by Pope Saint John Paul II at the Beatification Mass of Fr. Joseph Vaz in 1995. The altar cloth is a collective offering from the rural people from North, East, Central, Southern and North Western Provinces. It is hand-woven and embellished with traditional appliqué, patchwork and hand embroidery.

Pic: Ranjith Asanka

The floral arrangements on stage will be done with blue and white lotus flowers, the national flower of Sri Lanka. Among the other decorations on stage will be specially six feet carved statue of Saint Joseph Vaz and a statue of our Lady of Lanka on either side. Since it is customary to have a relic of the Saint at the canonization ceremony, the ebony cross from Joseph Vas Pura in Maha Galgamuwa will be placed on stage. It has been given by Fr. Vaz to be planted at the entrance to the village as a protection from wild elephants.

The ambo is designed with tree of life, the symbols of four Evangelists and the iron wood flower.

Two stamps, a first day cover, souvenir sheet, stamp folder, stamp booklet and a picture post card with the picture of the stamp on one side will also be issued to mark the visit of Pope Francis by the Postal Department.The Pope will visit the sacred Madhu Shrine on January 14 afternoon and will travel in open car to the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute at Bolawalana where he will impart his blessings.

The Pontiff will pay a courtesy call on President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s House on Tuesday at 5.00 p.m.

Until recently speculation was rife that the Pope’s visit would be cancelled or postponed, since the country was in an electioneering phase, but the Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, and the Church dismissed rumours and confirmed that the Pope would arrive in Sri Lanka during his Asian trip on January 13 and will leave for Manila, Philippines, his final destination, on January 15. Special Bus and train services have been scheduled to facilitate the devotees to visit Colombo on January 13 and 14. The Church invited Catholic and non-Catholics to attend the Holy Mass at the Galle Face Green on January 14 at 8.30 a.m.

A compassionate Pope: Pope Francis’s itinerary

Arrival – January 13
8.45 a.m.

* Pope Francis and papal delegation arrive at the BIA by special aircraft

* Chief of Protocol and the apostolic Nuncio greet the Pope on board the aircraft

*Pope is greeted by President Maithripala Sirisena and the First Lady followed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith

* The Pope will be accorded Tri Service Guard of Honour and 21 gun salute

*Welcome speech by the President and a speech by the Pope

*Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith presents the Bishops of Sri Lanka

*Pope Francis signs the Golden Book

* His holiness leaves the BIA in Pope Mobile along with the Arch Bishop

[Archbishop’s House - January 13 ]
1.15 p.m.

* The Holy father arrives at the Archbishop’s House, Colombo

*The Auxiliary Bishops and Priest of the House will welcome His Holiness

*A community Prayer at the Sacred Heart Chapel

Courtesy call on President – January 13
5.00 p.m.

*Arrive at the President’s House

*Private meeting in the state drawing room

* Exchange of gifts in the Grand Hall

*Postal Services Minister presents the fist day cover and commemorative stamp

* Government Ministers and members of the Diplomatic Corps meet the Pope

Inter-religious encounter - January 13
6.15 p.m.

*Arrival at the BMICH

*The Pope is taken in a procession to the Assembly Hall

*Chanting of Pirith by Ven. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Thera

* Religious blessings and prayer by Hindu Kurukkal, Muslim Maulavi and member of Ecumenical Group

* Speech by Holy Father and exchange of greetings

Canonization ceremony of Joseph Vaz – January 14
7.45 a.m.

* The Pope arrives at the Galle Face Green

* The Pope rides among the faithful in open car

Arrival at Sacristy
8.30 a.m.

*Holy Mass: The order of the Liturgy

Introductory rites

Rite of Canonization

* The Archbishop of Goa reads out a brief Biography of the Bl. Joseph Vaz

Liturgy of the Word

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Communion Rite

Concluding Rite

10.45 a.m. Holy Father returns to the Sacristy

Religious service at Madhu Shrine – January 14
2.00 p.m.

*The Pope and dignitaries will leave by Air force helicopters to Madhu
3.20 p.m.

* Holy Father is welcomed by Bishop of Mannar

* The Pope is transferred by open car to the Shrine

*The Pope Mobile goes among the faithful

* A welcome speech by Bishop of Mannar inside the shrine
4.00 p.m.

*Liturgical ceremony (discourse of the Holy Father)

Visit to Bolawalana - January 15
8.15 a.m.

* Arrival at the Cultural Institute at Bolawalana

*Holy Father prays silently at the chapel, recites the prayer of blessing and imparts the blessings

* Leave for the airport Departure
8.45 a.m.

* The Pope will be received by the President at the BIA

* VIPs including Bishops line a red carpet on the tarmac to bid farewell

* Tri Services Guard of Honour

* Departure on board a special aircraft to Manila

*The final touches to the stage erected for the canonisation of Blessed Joseph Vaz by Pope Francis at the Galle Face Green.

Devotees can enter the Galle Face Green after 5.00pm the previous day. Joseph Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul II at the same venue in 1995. Joseph Vaz who revived the Catholic church during the Dutch period is the first saint of Sri Lanka. Facilities for devotees will be provided at the Galle Face Green .



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