Colombo (AsiaNews) - Celebrations for the Pauline Year coincide with festivities for Blessed Joseph Vaz, called "the apostle of Sri Lanka". The three years of preparations for the third centenary of his death, to be observed on January 16, 2011, are now underway. In what at the time was still called Ceylon, Fr Joseph permitted the "rebirth of Christianity from his own ashes", and it is precisely because of his immense evangelical and missionary effort that Pope John Paul II called the Blessed, of Indian origin, "the Saint Paul of Sri Lanka".
In a statement released by the bishops' conference (CBCSL), in which the faithful are called "to follow attentively the example left by Saint Paul", the bishops of the country emphasise "the enormous missionary effort carried out both by the Apostle and by Blessed Joseph Vaz". "Fr Vaz", affirms the statement from the CBCSL, "heard an inner voice that constantly called him to come to the aid of the abandoned and persecuted Catholics of Sri Lanka. Both Saint Paul and Blessed Joseph Vaz preached the gospel zealously, not heeding the many trails and hardships and persecutions. St Paul was martyred and blessed Joseph Vaz's life was a continuous martyrdom".
The bishops' conference urges the faithful to "imitate, study, and follow these two great men of God as models", analysing in particular their missionary charism. Benedict XVI has pointed out the Apostle Paul as an exemplary figure of "proclaiming the good news" among the peoples, a figure who still today is "a model" of faith.
The bishops of Sri Lanka ask the faithful to organise occasions of Bible study and reflection, to analyze the letters of Saint Paul and learn from these models "how to preserve the faith and become proclaimers of the message of salvation". They invite seminaries and religious institutes to organise meetings aimed at promoting the study of the apostle, of his life and works, his theological thought and missionary spirit; an invitation that also applies to the laity and young people, that they may keep their faith alive. "As St. Paul worked for unity and brotherhood among all Christians", concludes the document of the CBCSL, "let us foster ecumenical gatherings and conduct seminars and workshops at the diocesan level".
In a final note, the bishops recall the visit of John Paul II to Sri Lanka, during which he evoked the figure of Fr Joseph Vaz, calling him "a model for bishops, priests, and religious", because of his "profound love for God and his brothers". Pope Wojtyla exhorted the faithful to follow his "example, so that the life of the Blessed may become a model of inspiration for each of you".