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Colombo, January 14, 2015 (Reuters) Pope Francis gave Sri Lanka its first saint on Wednesday at a Mass for hundreds of thousands of people packed on a Colombo oceanfront, in a climax to a 300-year campaign to recognise the holiness of Joseph Vaz.

The Pope told the hushed crowd that Vaz was an example of religious tolerance relevant to Sri Lanka. "Saint Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace," he said in his homily.
Vaz, who was captured as a suspected spy after he crept into the tropical island in disguise was born in 1651 in Goa.

He travelled south at the age of 36, dressed as a beggar, to a country then divided into kingdoms after hearing about the persecution of Catholics by the Dutch, and worked for years under the protection of a Buddhist king.

Francis, speaking slowly in English, said Christians should follow the example of Vaz to build peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul during a visit to Sri Lanka 20 years ago.
Vaz spent five years secretly preaching in the lush lowlands before making his way to the Kingdom of Kandy in the highland rainforests, where he was captured and accused of espionage for Portugal under the guise of religion.

King Vimaladharmasuriya II protected him from the Dutch and Vaz's reputation was further bolstered when he was said to have made rain during a drought.

Vaz remained in Kandy until his death aged 60 in 1711, by which time the Church says he had converted 30,000 people and created a network of priests, almost single-handedly re-establishing Catholicism in Ceylon.


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Todays Epaper

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Mahagathbandhan