The statue of Joseph Vaz is pictured during his canonisation mass in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo. (AFP Photo)
After over 300 years, efforts to canonize Indian-origin Catholic priest Joseph Vaz finally concluded with Pope Francis giving Sri Lanka its first Saint, a Goan.
St Vaz, a 17th century priest, was born and brought up in Goa. He later moved to Sri Lanka, a largely Buddhist nation, where he worked extensively.
Pope Francis, during his six-day Asia tour, described him as a model for national reconciliation after the deadly civil war.
After the canonisation, the 78-year-old Pope Francis told the crowd, "St Joseph shows us the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace". Christians should follow the example of St Vaz, said the Pope, to build peace, justice and reconciliation.
"As the life of St 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," he said.
Goa too erupted in celebration today; at Sancoale in South Goa district, the birthplace of St Vaz, thousands took part in various ceremonies to welcome the development.
Born in 1651 in India, St Vaz moved to Sri Lanka at the age of 35 to fight the oppression of Catholics under the Dutch government.
"His greatest contribution was to revive the Catholic faith; his work for millions of poor, downtrodden, those suffering from small pox and alcoholism, and starting a civil disobedience movement," explained Father Emerito Rebello, a rector at the Joseph Vaz Sanctuary in Sancoale.
By the time of his death in 1711, St Vaz had largely rebuilt the Catholic Church in the island nation, earning him the title "Apostle of Sri Lanka". But the canonization bid failed repeatedly as the Vatican said there wasn't enough evidence for it.
With renewed efforts by both Goan and Lankan priests, the appeal for his canonisation was accepted recently.
"It's a great honour. He is the first Saint for Goa and only the fifth for India," Father Rebello said.
In November last year, Father Kuriakose Chavara, a catholic priest and Sister Euphrasia, both from the state of Kerala, were conferred with Sainthood by Pope Francis at Vatican's St Peter's Square.