COLOMBO (EconomyNext) – Pope Francis canonized Joseph Vaz, a Catholic priest who lived and worked in Sri Lanka in the 17 century, and also called for religious freedom.
Joseph Vaz came to Sri Lanka disguised as a ships labourer after the Dutch banished all Franciscan priests from the island and closed Catholic churches fearing links with the Portuguese, leaving the island without a Catholic priest for about 30 years.
Joseph Vaz who came to the island from Goa, tended to his flock from the hill capital of Kandy which was under King Wimalasurendra II and Vira Narendra Sinha, under whom there was religious freedom.
"His ministry to the sick was so appreciated by the king during a smallpox epidemic in Kandy that he was allowed greater freedom to minister," Pope Francis said in Colombo.
"From Kandy, he could reach out to other parts of the island. He spent himself in missionary work and died, exhausted, at the age of fifty-nine, revered for his holiness."
Pope Francis called for religious freedom and friendship among all peoples.
"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right," the Pope said.
"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."
Most people in Europe and North America and several countries in Asia now have full religious freedom with no state involvement in religion.
In Britain and in the British Empire full religious emancipation came in the first half of 19th century at around the same time as slaves were emancipated in Empire including in Ceylon.
Though slavery has not been re-established, some religious, language and economic freedoms have been rolled back from the levels seen in the mid-1850s with the nationalism and interventionism that emerged in Europe and gradually spread to the rest of the world.