01/12/2015, 00.00
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Pope Francis comes to Sri Lanka as a messenger of reconciliation for Tamils and Sinhalese

by Melani Manel Perera
Everything is ready on the island for the apostolic visit. Everywhere, Catholics have placed Vatican flags and the pope's pictures on streets, churches, schools and houses to mark the event. During the visit, the pontiff will canonise Joseph Vaz and is expected to meet with the victims of the country's civil war during his visit to the Marian Shrine at Madhu.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The people of Sri Lanka are hoping to hear Pope Francis deliver a message of reconciliation, after 30 years of civil war, for majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

The Holy Father arrives tomorrow Katunayake International Airport for his first apostolic trip to the island nation, once known as Ceylon.

During his stay, he will take part in two major events. The first one is the canonisation of Joseph Vaz, the country's first saint; the second is the visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, which is located in the north of the country. Both will take place on Wednesday.

In various places, Vatican flags and pictures of the Holt Father already dot Catholic homes, schools, churches as well as streets.

"We need to Pope Francis," a group of young people from Mullathivu (north) told AsiaNews some. "We want him to pray with us for a lasting peace and true freedom. We would like to see him say a few words to the government on the war crimes committed during the conflict, for which the Tamil community continues to suffer. "

The Galle Face Green, where the ceremony of Vaz's canonisation will take place this Wednesday, will be open to the public starting at tomorrow at 6 pm.

About 1,200 bishops and priests from Sri Lanka and other countries - in particular India (especially Goa) - will concelebrate the service.

The Indian-born missionary, known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka, arrived in the country in the 17th century, when it was under Dutch control. During his mission, he challenged the anti-Catholic persecution by Dutch settlers, and tried to bring Catholicism to both Sinhalese and Tamils. His canonisation is the first major sign of unity.

To Ruki Fernando, a Catholic human rights activist, Joseph Vaz's sanctification "will be an opportunity to reflect on Sri Lanka's modern martyrs, especially the priests who disappeared during the war."

Dozens of priests, who chose to stay with their communities, were killed between 2006 and 2009, during the last (and more intense) phase of the conflict.

In last Thursday's election, the people of Sri Lanka chose Maithripala Sirisena as their new president, bringing to an end Mahinda Rajapaksa's time in office.

"We just started a new era with a new political team," some Catholics told AsiaNews. "We believe it will be a meaningful and peaceful journey after years of bad government."

"The pope's visit will be a blessing for Maithri, so that under his rule the country can have peace, success, unity and freedom."

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