COLOMBO: A million worshippers packed the Colombo seafront to greet Pope Francis as he canonized Sri Lanka’s first saint on Wednesday in the biggest public celebration the city has ever witnessed.
Many had waited through the night to see the first pope to visit the island in two decades to canonize Joseph Vaz, a 17th century missionary who disguised himself as a beggar to evade persecution.
The Pope called on the sea of people, many holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the blazing sun, to follow Vaz’s example of religious tolerance as he delivered his homily on Colombo’s imposing Galle Face Green.
Francis, whose visit has focused on post-war reconciliation, said the missionary had shown “the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace”, ministering to those in need regardless of their creed.
“I pray that… the Christians of this country may be confirmed in faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society,” he said.
“This is what Christ asks of you. This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you.”
Wednesday’s mass on the shores of the Indian Ocean was a colorful mix of the country’s diverse cultures, with hymns sung in both the Sinhala and Tamil languages as well as traditional dancers and drummers from around the island.
Crowds leaned in to touch the pope as he arrived in a customized open-topped car, before kissing the altar to mark the start of the service.