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Religious freedom in focus as Pope canonizes 1st saint of Sri Lanka

January 14, 2015

Pope Francis highlighted the importance of religious freedom as he presided on January 14 at the canonization of Sri Lanka’s first saint.

At an outdoor Mass in Colombo, with several hundred thousand in the congregation, the Pope recalled that St. Joseph Vaz, a 17th-century missionary, carried out his apostolate despite religious persecution. His example, the Pontiff said, “shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace.”

“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right,” the Holy Father continued. “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. As the life of Saint Joseph Vaz teaches us, 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.”

Pope Francis continued to emphasize the theme of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, a nation of mixed ethnic and religious groups that is recovering from a long and bloody civil war. He said that respect for different religions contributes to civic peace, and repeated his message that religious ideas must never be used as a pretext for violence.

The Pontiff also encouraged Christians to see the newly canonized St. Joseph Vaz as “an example of missionary zeal,” noting how he spread the faith in Sri Lanka.


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