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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2640

Sri Lankan migrants accepti each other as brothers and sisters of the same Lord - Archbishop Dr. Malcolm Ranjith at Padua

Fr. Shamindra Jayawardena OSB, reporting from Rome.

The first of May has been, for the last 10 years, a special day forSt. Anthony of PaduaSt. Anthony of Padua all the Sri Lankan migrants working in Italy as it has been the day on which all of them gather at Padua. This year too, around 15,000 Sri Lankans gathered to celebrate the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the most popular saints in Sri Lanka and the world over. St. Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died on the 13th of June 1231 in Padua, Italy. The entire world calls St. Anthony its own, but his home city of Lisbon, Portugal, delights to name him its most saintly native son.

St. Anthony is considered to be the protector of souls in purgatory, propitiator of happy marriages, defender of animals, defender of lost property, and many other miraculous configurations of popular imagination. He was canonized by Pope Gregory IX on May 30th, 1232.

The celebration on the 1st of May was organized by Rev. Fr. Neville Joe Perera, the National Coordinator of the Italian Bishops’ Conference for the Sri Lankan migrants. Organizing such a feast is not an easy task since it is now considered the biggest and the grandest Sri Lankan gathering of any nature outside Sri Lanka. The main event was the Eucharistic celebration held in the main Basilica, built in the form of a Latin cross and immersed in semi-darkness, giving a harmonious blend of the imposing power of Romanesque architecture and soaring Gothic style. One of the most treasured relics of the Basilica is the incorruptible tongue of the Saint (the instrument with which he had glorified God and sanctified His people), which is preserved in a splendid reliquary made by the goldsmith Giuliano of Firenze.

The Most Rev. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was the main celebrant, while Most Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis, the President of the Commission for Migrants of the Sri Lankan Bishops’ Conference and Monsignor Gian Romano, the National Director for Migrants of the Italian Bishops’ Conference concelebrated together with nearly 30 priests from Sri Lanka and Italy. The Mass was celebrated and hymns were sung in both languages, Sinhala and Tamil, giving a national flavour to the whole service.

In his homily, preached in both Sinhala and Italian, His Grace the Archbishop explained the meaning of the universal call to holiness, a much spoken topic within the Church. “Holiness” the archbishop said “is the highest calling. All other things, however important and noble they might seem to be, must lead us and inspire us to this call to holiness which is fundamental to our catholic identity and vocation. Moreover, whatever we say or do must reflect this most noble vocation, which is the call to holiness.”

He went on to explain as to how the very meaning of the word ‘Catholic’ (which is the same as the universality of the Church) is expressed and realized in the multitude of Her saints drawn from people of all walks of life. According to His Grace the Archbishop, this diversity is shown by having saints of various nationalities and cultures. In their numbers there are white saints and black saints, those who were rich and poor.

Even those in various crafts and professions like the saint politicians, lawyers and ordinary labourers, priests and religious, and saints who were lay men and women, are all represented within this galaxy of the saints of the Catholic Church. The archbishop said that much effort is called upon on being faithful in this task since man is often faced with all types of challenges and temptations. Therefore, he called upon the Sri Lankan migrants to be wise in all what they choose for themselves. “Another aspect of this universal call to holiness”, the Archbishop went on to explain, “is the challenge of accepting each other as brothers and sisters of the same Lord.

In the Church there are no strangers and no one is excluded from Her because in Her All have a place to stay. Hence our task as Christians is to rise above all forms of differences and divisions that fall short of our Catholic identity and calling.” Referring to the situation which is prevailing in the country, the Archbishop said that the war is not the only solution to this crisis. “Now that the war is coming to end, there is yet another war, a war after the war for which we have to prepare ourselves and which is far more difficult than the war which preceded it. That is the war of restoring the dignity among all men and women of one Mother Lanka through building harmony and peace through reconciliation and love,” His Grace the Archbishop stated. He also noted that finally, true and lasting peace could only be achieved through respecting the diversity of all men and women of our country, restoring their dignity and building bridges of reconciliation and love. According to him this is the greatest difficulty and the challenge which we must face in the future. The sermon in Tamil, which expressed the same sentiments, was delivered by Bishop, Most. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis.

After mass, the relic of the Saint was taken in procession along the main road leading to the Basilica by the Sri Lankans. This was a traditional Sri Lankan procession which included Kandyan dancers. His Grace Archbishop Malcolm blessed the congregation with the sacred relic of the Saint bringing this memorable event to a close. After this, everyone enjoyed the rest of the day in the company of friends and relatives as it was a welcome break from the tight schedule of work and labour. It was with one wish and prayer that all Sri Lankans left the sacred place and that too, to come again next year and thank St. Anthony for the miracle of finding the brotherhood and harmony which was lost in Sri Lanka some 30 years ago.

- Asian Tribune -

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