Dear beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
You have come to this hallowed Shrine of Talawila, with lots of wishes and hopes in your mind. I wish sincerely, may St. Anne grant her abundant blessings on our Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, on all Bishops, priests and religious and on all you who have come today and may she intercede for you today and every day. On this festive day, we offer this Holy Mass for your intentions. Through Sirasa TV channel, thousands of faithful throughout the world join us at this jubilee celebration and I wish blessings and intercession St. Anne on all of them.
Mission work in Kalpitiya peninsula commenced in the year 1606, that is more than 400 years ago. The first missionaries in this area were Jesuit priests who came from Kochi ( formerly Cochin ), in India. At that time, Kalpitiya peninsula was full of wild elephants, wild buffalos and leopards. It is found in the writings of that time, how these missionaries continued their mission so courageously and enthusiastically amidst such difficulties and challenges. Father Joseph Vaz, (now Blessed Joseph Vaz), an Indian oratorian, came to Kalpitiya in 1690 in search of the faithful. Kalpitiya faithful welcomed Father Joseph Vaz as an angel come down from heaven and knelt at the feet of Father Joseph Vaz and received the spiritual strength and life, they were longing to have and learned catechism as well. Here, I would like to draw your attention to an important point. The discovery of the miraculous statue of St. Anne at the sea shore of Talawila and the arrival of Father Joseph Vaz at Kalpitiya was in the same period, that means about 320 years ago. The first Bishop in the Diocese of Chilaw, His Lordship Bishop Edmund Peiris, a historian, a great scholar, writer and a gifted linguist, in his book titled, ‘Talawila St. Anne’, he has clearly written and verified the historical truth of this hallowed Shrine and the statue.
The first repository of the venerated statue of St. Anne was at the hollow of a banyan tree. We have proofs that during this time, there had been about 14 churches in this area. The celebration of 300th Jubilee at KelePalliya( church in the forest ) is a classic example for this information. My dear brethren, even if you go to KelePalliya today, you will find historical writings carved in the wooden beams in the roof. These are our very valuable historical resources. Then the statue of St. Anne, which was in a banyan tree, was brought to a cadjan structure made out of human hands. As the number of pilgrims increased, a shrine was built with brick walls and tiled roof. This information is found even in an archives in Rome. The Church in Sri Lanka has all the information about the missionaries and their work in 1762 in Talawila. Even though the miraculous statue of St. Anne reached the golden shore of Talawila 300 years ago, today we as Sri Lankan Catholics celebrate the 250th Jubilee of this hallowed first Shrine of St. Anne, which was built with brick walls and tiled roof. It is about 170 years, for this newly re-structured shrine, but this shrine was built when the first shrine was dilapidated nearly after 80 years. Therefore, let us clearly understand what we celebrate today ; today we celebrate 250th year, since the pilgrims gathered in this first Shrine of St. Anne. We commemorate today with thanksgiving in our hearts and with gratitude to God Our Father, for the abundant blessings showered upon us during these 250 years.
In the first reading today, taken from the book of Exodus, shows us how God feeds His people and protects them. 'I will rain down bread for you from the heavens’, says the Lord. Food is an essential necessity in life. Therefore we find in the writings of the Old Testament, that God is very sensitive to the needs of the people. We see how our Lord Saviour was sensitive to the needs of the people. He did not consider the hunger of the thousands of people insignificant, who flocked to hear his sermons or to receive his blessings. Miraculously he multiplied the loaves and fed the people. He told them very clearly that they were coming after him, only because they were given bread freely and not because of their deep faith the in the miracles he performed. Yet, he became very sensitive to the needs of the people and did not chase them away. Let us pause for a while at this reflection.
God does not neglect our day to day human needs of our life. We need to live before we start believing. Our Lord showed that before one start believing, he need to live. Therefore he said that it is not wrong to pray or plead for our needs. ‘ Ask, you shall receive” said our Lord, because he knew our needs and our struggles, difficulties and challenges we face in life. There are basic necessities in our life. Right to life is the most important of all. Even the child conceived in the mother’s womb, has the right to life. Life begins at the very moment of conception. No one has the right to kill the child in the mother’s womb. Yesterday at the Vespers Service, His Lordship Bishop Vianney Fernando, Bishop of Kandy, explained to us as to what is abortion, repercussions of such actions and if we get involved in such activities, one day we will have to be answerable to God. Therefore, no one has the right to kill the child in the mother’s womb. If some people try to create abortion as a legalized right, when there is no right at all, it is a support given for killing and murder. Our faithful need to understand that it is a crime, it is a grave sin, which this earth even cannot bear up. But there are some people who want to legalize abortion. They are the ones who abuse our innocent children, youth and women. So there is an attempt to create laws to protect these culprits rather than bringing laws to protect the innocent unborn children. I think it is like giving medicine to stomach when you have a headache.
Prosperity and development of the country should be the prosperity of the people, development of the people. We cannot think of development, without considering basic needs of the people. First, people need to live. In these days, in the Kalpitiya peninsula, fishermen live in fear of losing their land and properties. Those responsible should take steps not to create such fear and tension among them. They should be assured of their right to live in these islands. As people of God, we need to be more sensitive to these issues. History tells us that 400 years ago, Kalpitiya peninsula was of full wild elephants, wild buffalos and leopards. It is not difficult to understand this fact, since this area is closer to Wilpattu national park. But as the people embraced the faith in the Lord and religion spread in this area, whole area began to change and prosper and develop with the grace of God. Even on this golden shore, trees and plants grow with the blessings of God. Vegetable that grow in Nuweraeliya, cabbage cauliflower, carrots & leeks, also grow in this Talawilaarea ; they don’t just simply grow, but with divine blessings. Guavas around Talawila area just don’t become giant guavas, but with divine blessings on this land. Therefore, we need to protect these resources and experience God’s love and care through such gracious blessings on this land. We need to protect the lives of people in this area, we need to assure their right for fishing, right for cultivation and right for life. People who respect the gift of life, who understand the needs of people, who understands the sufferings of the people, become honourable people not only before the world, but also before God. Let us be convinced in this meditation, that one who thinks of the welfare of the other, dedicates oneself for others, even without considering his own self, is a person who is not far from God.
I like to take you all another step forward. The Lord who understand the sufferings of the people and hunger of the people and the Lord who feeds them, tells us today ; ‘man does not live on bread alone’. It is said in today Gospel, ‘Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life’. What was the response of his disciples, when they heard this ? They said, ‘’Lord, give us that bread always’. Is it not the same thought that comes into our mind even now ? They asked him, ‘Lord, what is that bread ? From where can we buy this bread ?’. Our Lord said, ‘ I am the bread of life’. We need food and water for life, but we need justice and equity more than that. We need money, but much more than that, we need peace and unity in our families and in the country. We need clothes, but much more than that, we need discipline and decency. We need houses and shelter, but much more than that, children need love and protection of the parents. We need education and schools, but much more than that, we need children who are disciplined, who love their country and honour the nation, children who would work for the benefit of the country. We need religion, but much more than that, we need faith and holiness. We need job qualifications, but much more than that, we need a exemplary life. We need statues and images, but much more than that, we need to look at own life and mould it in a better way. We need faith, but much more than that, we need to bear witness to our faith. When we look at the world and the Church today, this is what we understand. The problem is not that there is no faith in us, we are people of faith, but the problem is that, there is no sufficient witnessing to our faith. For us, faith is one thing and our life is another style. In another words, religion is there, but not the doctrine. Today, religion is limited to mere words. Sometimes, religion is limited to mere prayers, limited to mere festivals, but what about our life style ? Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI hopes to declare the Year of Faith from this year October. He has been often speaking about a new way of evangelization. This invites each one of us to base ourselves in deep faith and bear witness to this faith and to live a faith-filled life.
My dear beloved brothers and sisters, we have a boat, but don’t have a proper oar, to paddle and sail. A Christian or a follower of Christ, is the one who lives as a disciple of Christ. Christ our Lord, comes to us as the bread of life through the Holy Eucharist. He stays with us. In this, each of us become another-Christ. Therefore, all of us gathered here, all of us who believe in Christ, need to become another-Christ. Then our responsibility is to share the life of Christ that is within us, with others. In this way, we need to become an example to the others and share the bread of life with others. As Christians, this is the responsibility of each one of us. New Evangelization, therefore means, that each one of us become a very active and practicing Christian. We need to bear witness to our Christian life, whether it is in our family or society or in the school or in our working place or in political life. There is a greater need for such witnessing in today’s society and in the world. If don’t bear witness to our Christian life, if don’t bear witness to our faith, in a way we betray Christ our Lord. As we listened to the Gospel today, what we need today, is not the kind of people who are satisfied with eating rice in all three meals, but God’s people, God’s children who are nourished with the bread of life, that lasts. Therefore, if we look for a that kind changed life, then this Jubilee Feast would become a meaningful feast, a feast filled with love and blessings of St. Anne. We pray for this special blessing on all of you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.