02/10/2021, 12.48
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Gonawila Catholics celebrate 'Sister Helena' 90 years after her death

by Melani Manel Perera

Despite fewer participants because of COVID-19 restrictions, the memorial Mass was strongly felt. For Fr Priyantha, she shared “Christ’s suffering” without complaining. She prayed for the conversion of the father and brother. Students took part in a competition to promote knowledge about the future saint.

Gonawila (AsiaNews) – Catholics in Gonawila celebrated the 151 years of stigmata and the 90th anniversary of the death of Sister Helena. Fewer people took part in the event compared to previous years because of restrictions due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Affectionately called Sister by local residents, she was the first consecrated laywoman to be declared a Servant of God in 2016.

The Diocese of Chilaw, where she originally came from, has already started the process of beatification, collecting evidence for the two miracles necessary to declare her a saint.

The memorial Mass held on Monday afternoon in the parish church was followed by a prayer in the nearby cemetery.

The diocese’s new vicar general, Fr Ashok Priyantha Perera, led the service together with Fr Saman Kithsiri, Fr Arosh and Fr Dilantha, all from the village of Gonawila.

“We did not give great prominence to the service because we could not guarantee adequate controls in the event of a significant influx of people,” said Fr Ivan Fernando, pastor at St Joseph Parish, Gonawila.

Born on 18 March 1849 in Gonawila, Central-Western Province, Sister Helena died on 8 February 1931 at the age of 88.

For almost all of her life she lived with the pain of the stigmata, received on 12 October 1870 at the age of 22.

She had asked the Lord to be blessed with her wounds, to share her pain for the redemption and conversion of her Buddhist father and brother, involved in demonic activities.

Speaking about the stigmata received in her youth, Vicar General Fr Priyantha noted that she shared “Christ's suffering throughout her life” without complaining, fulfilling the call to holiness that came with her baptism.

“Sister Helena never complained about her pain, about the threats to her very life itself. She accepted it as a gift from God and a pledge to follow Jesus in everything,” he said.

Until her death she never stopped praying, even for the conversion of her Buddhist father and her brother, who were engaged in pagan practices such as animal sacrifices.

According to a biography written by Bishop Edmund Peiris, who was her contemporary, she had a deep desire to give herself completely to Christ and prayed a lot for the conversion of her family.

Nilantha Wijetunga, secretary of the Helena Foundation, told AsiaNews that they completed the task of introducing the life of the Servant of God to Sri Lankans, especially children. “In recent years more and more people wanted to be close to the life of Sister Helena”.

The Mass was held on February 7th and attended by a group of 32 students who, out of 700, won a competition based precisely on knowledge about her life and works.

“Her earthly experience was really interesting,” said K Sherina Gayani, a student from Gonawila, speaking to AsiaNews.

“She is a great inspiration, also because she is the only one in Sri Lanka that we can call our own. Saint Joseph Vaz was not a native of Sri Lanka.”

“Today we have this compatriot, which is why I love to talk about her life and make it public.” The day she is declared a saint “will be a moment of great pride for all of us”.

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