[ Fr. Sunil De Silva ]
His Eminence Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray from the Parish of Periyamulla, Negombo, was born on 28th December 1901, was ordained a priest on 23rd June 1929 in the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Thereafter he was appointed as the Co-adjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo on 12th December 1945 and succeeded as the Archbishop of Colombo on 26th July 1947.
He was elevated as a Cardinal on 22nd February 1965 by Pope Paul VI.
His Eminence was called to Eternal Rest in the Lord on 29th October 1988 and his mortal remains were buried in the crypt chapel in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, Tewatta on 03rd November 1988.

New York Times issue on 01st No. 1988, quoted, ''During the years of suppression or limitation of religious freedom, Cardinal Cooray constantly affirmed the spirituality of his own mission and the loyalty of Roman Catholics'' to the Sri Lankan Government, the Vatican said."


His Grace the Archbishop Oswald Gomis, preaching at the Memorial Mass on 29th October 2008, recalled the exceptional holiness and simple, but deep faith of Cardinal Cooray. Archbishop Gomis said, " the fragrance of his holiness and faith spread throughout the Archdiocese of Colombo, when he became the first Sri Lankan Archbishop of Colombo and the first Cardinal of Sri Lanka and first Cardinal who had opportunity to vote in the conclave in electing the pope. In fact he twice had the opportunity to vote in the conclave. When he was appointed as the Archbishop of Colombo, he had a vision for the Archdiocese and for the Church in Sri Lanka. To serve and lookafter the faithful in the Archdiocese, he wanted spiritually well equipped and virtuous priests. Then on 07th March 1950, he laid the foundation for the Minor Seminary and trained students with a missionary commitment.Seminary formation was a priority for His Eminence."

" In 1960's our schools were taken over by the government, certainly was not on purpose of provinding better education to the children, but to attack the Catholic Church and to disrupt the religious education in the schools. His Eminence, deeply disturbed by the "School Takeover Bill", appealed to the government to leave at least the primary schools under the care of the Church. Government having realized that there were more students in the primary departments than middle schools, primary schools were taken over by the government. Then the Church in Sri Lanka had to find ways and means to educate our Catholic children and maintain religious education in the schools."

" His Eminence was also concern about the economy of the Archdiocese. He purchased lands for future schools and churches and also several estates to strengthen the economy of the Archdiocese. He even convinced the Brothers to work in the estates during their holidays to support the Archdiocese. Look at the Basilica Watta, many trees that are planted here, are very rare and they were very carefull selected and planted by His Eminence. Not only he purchased lands for the Archdiocese, but also he was concern about the welfare of the other dioceses as well. Once on his way to Madhu Shrine, he met his friend Fr. Emilianus Pillai OMI, who later became the Bishop of Jaffna, inquired about the situation of the Anuradhapura diocese as well. Fr. Emilianus informed His Eminence Cardinal Cooray about a Catholic Community living in Alagollewa and who had no services of a priest. His Eminence not only arranged a priest to lookafter the Catholic Community at Alagollewa, but also personally visited the faithful at Alagollawa and those areas and purchased lands for the present diocese of Anuradhapura."

" Thomas Cardinal Cooray was truly a very committed and dedicated holy priest of God.Holiness of his life spread wherever he went. His unassuming life style, fraternaly way he spoke to the priests calling them "my sons", his pastoral zeal to visit his people very often in accordance of his episcopal motto - "ministrare non ministrari" - to serve and not to be served and all these qualities of his life brought musch desired changes in the transition of the Archdiocese."

" In early days of World War II Archbishop Jean Marie Masson, the last Frenchman to be Metropolitan of Sri Lanka, made a vow in 1940 to the Blessed Mother to build a Marian shrine in her honour, if Sri Lanka was saved from the ravages of the war. His Eminence Cardinal Cooray, kept the vow made by Archbishop Masson and started to build this beautiful Basilica, slowly but steadily, inspite of criticisms. Some were asking, why build a huge basilica instead of building houses for the poor. His Eminence not only purchased lands for the poor but also built houses for them. Amidst all the work, His Eminence completed the construction of the National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka."

" Today we have come together to thank the Lord for the holy and committed life of His Eminence Cardinal Thomas Cooray and to pay our respect to him. More than our praying for him, ask him to pray for us and for our country".

by by Hector Welgampola

Less-known facets in the life of well-known Cardinal
born 100 years ago

December 29 marks the birth centenary of Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray. The first Sri Lankan to be made Archbishop of Colombo, he was also a member of the Catholic Church's topmost council of papal consultors, the College of Cardinals. He goes down in history as the only Sri Lankan ever to participate in the election of a Pope. In fact, he voted in two conclaves that elected Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. But he was no accident of history.

Born into a poor but virtuous family of rustic Catholics in Periyamulla, just north of Negombo, the young Benjamin was known as a child prodigy even in his early days at St. Anthony's Sinhalese School in Dalupotha.

Since his village did not have a school of its own, all boys and girls of the parish attended the Church-run schools in neighbouring Dalupotha, and the Cooray family lived on the Periyamulla-Dalupotha border. My father, just one year his senior in the school and parish, would often recall in later years about the brilliant contemporary of exceptional holiness who lived on the same "Weli paara," or gravel road, intercepted by the Chilaw Road.

Under the guidance of parish priest Father Paul Alles, Benjamin joined St. Aloysius Seminary, Borella to begin his early training for the priesthood.

Rustic origin made him a lover of the environment

As a seminarian, the young Benjamin would trek on foot for lessons at St. Joseph's College, Colombo. I have heard veteran Josephians recall with amazement the academic performances of Benjamin, who carried away most class prizes on College Prize Days.

From St. Joseph's College to University College and then to Rome for ecclesiastical studies, the village lad gained a Ph.D. summa cum laude before returning home after the priesthood ordination.

Father Alles welcomed young Father Benjamin Cooray for his first Mass at Periyamulla with prophetic words about a man made for greater things. Nonetheless, this was still the time of his "hidden life." and the young priest served in several positions beginning as a teacher at his alma mater St. Joseph's College, Colombo and Chaplain to Catholic university students.
It was during this period that the man of classics amply displayed his love for nature and the environment while helping Father M.J. Le Goc to write a book on "Tropical Botany." Although the book became a standard school text, very few knew the role of Father Cooray played in collecting plant specimens and doing the spade work for the popular textbook.

In later years as Archbishop he took a keen interest in conserving the environment long before the environment became a public concern. He evinced a keen interest in the habitat of Church institutions and always insisted on the need to conserve nature.

On his travels overseas, he would sometimes bring rare botanical specimens and the Tewatta Basilica premises is rich in vegetation because of his great concern for the environment.

Many such facets in the late Cardinal's life and activities still remain as hidden as he was in the early years of his priestly ministry which were spent as formator of future missionaries of his religious congregation, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, better known as the Oblate or OMI Fathers.

Experience in training future priests is often considered an added qualification for the episcopate, which involves working alongside priests. In those days of the foreign missionaries’ administration, however, the young priest's appointment as the first native Rector of the Oblate Seminary would have gone unnoticed.

Thomist Theologian, man of destiny

But, unknown to the world and even to many in the Church, he was being watched. His one-time seminary rector and later Oblate Superior, Father Aloysius Perrot, who spent his last years in my birth parish at Periyamulla, once told me that Father Cooray was watched by the Oblate leadership for many years. He was one of the first native seminarians hand-picked by the Oblate missionaries for university education and later for higher studies in Rome.

Though the unassuming priest led a hidden life as the first Sinhalese Rector of the Oblate Fathers' seminary, he was a giant in his own right. A Thomist theologian and a man of prodigious memory, above all he was a man of God committed to the care of people, as he later pledged in his episcopal motto - "ministrare non ministrari" - to serve and not to be served.

As Father Perrot said, Cardinal Cooray's greatness lay in his life of exceptional holiness and persistent love for the Church. His sense of the holy was rooted in the simple faith-based culture of his rural background and the rustic simplicity of his faith-filled parents and embellished by the Thomistic theology he imbibed in Rome.

Fragrance of sanctity

The personal holiness he radiated was a bonding link that kept him in communion with the faithful of the Archdiocese of Colombo and beyond. And that living fragrance of sanctity still continues to hold his memory sacred in the hearts and minds of simple Catholics of our country.

Whenever I visit my home in Ragama, I visit Cardinal Cooray's grave in the crypt of the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka at Tewatta. Coincidence or not, on every such occasion I was not the only one to kneel in prayer at his grave.

Many of those who pray at his grave are simple village Catholics and every time I spoke with them I have gone away edified and impressed by the living legend of the "Apee Cardinal Unnaaanse" as they still call him. Though many Church people have forgotten him and others speak of him only in hushed and embarrassed tones, his memory and fragrance of sanctity still continue to be cherished by his people more than a decade after his death in 1988.

Fidelity to a predecessor's legacy

The Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, where his remains lie, is in many ways a symbol of the Cardinal's three-decade-long leadership of the local Church, which even his severest critics now admit was a golden era.

Building a Basilica, however, was not a matter of choice for the Cardinal. He was fulfilling a vow made by his predecessor. In the early days of World War II Archbishop Jean Marie Masson, the last Frenchman to be Metropolitan of Sri Lanka, made a vow in 1940 to the Blessed Mother to build a Marian shrine in her honour if the country was saved from the ravages of the war.

Our country emerged unscathed and Archbishop Masson obtained Pope Pius XII's approval to build the Marian Basilica in Tewatta. That was not all the ailing Archbishop discussed with the Vatican. He reportedly requested the appointment of a Coadjutor Archbishop to assist him.

Although for the first time in the history of the Church in our country, a native Sinhalese, Bishop Edmund Pieris, had been appointed in 1940 to the newly carved out Chilaw diocese, many did not expect a native to be appointed Archbishop. The choice was considered to be limited to the numerous French missionaries holding high ecclesiastical positions in Colombo.

Pioneer of transition

But the Oblate superiors were thinking ahead of the times and Rome took most people by surprise by appointing a native son, Father Thomas Benjamin Cooray, as Coadjutor Archbishop of Colombo in 1946.

The following year, which marked the dawn of our country's political Independence, also saw the accession of Archbishop Cooray to the see of Colombo, following the death of Archbishop Masson. The first native son's accession to the country's main Diocese serving half its Catholic population was not all smooth sailing. The nativisation process came "more hurriedly than some circumstances were prepared to move" as cautiously worded by Father Claude Lawrence.

It was not an easy transition from centuries of French missionary-led administration to that of a native Bishop leading French and native missionaries. The young Archbishop found a great source of strength in the Superior General of his Oblate congregation, Very Reverend Father Leo Deschatelets. With prayer-filled hope and the wisdom of his native genius, Archbishop Cooray set about his mission of service with a deftness that took many Church people by surprise.

Pastoral vision and indeginisation

Gracious and magnanimous to a fault, the new Archbishop appointed Father Fortin as first of three Vicars General. Just as he selected the episcopal candidate as first Vicar General, thus ensuring continuity and honouring French missionaries, he named a Sinhalese and a Tamil as his two other Vicars.

While Father Fortin was responsible for overseeing the parish apostolate, Father D.J. Nicholas Perera, an educationist and patriot who in his student days in England had taken part in the country's freedom struggle, was appointed Vicar for relations with the State.

Father Peter A, Pillai, an intellectual prodigy, was Vicar for Catholic education. These initial masterstrokes were early signs of the new Archbishop's latent pastoral skills.

He knew the faith-beat of his people

Enrooted in the native Sri Lankan Catholic community's spirituality, throughout his life he had a symbiotic rapport with their simple faith. That was an innate strength of Cardinal Cooray that let him always act with supreme confidence, and one could always say that he knew the faith-beat of his people as much as they could relate to him on the same faithlength.

The Eucharist, Marian devotion and loyalty to the Holy See have for centuries been the base of our Catholic community's faith, and they were also the treasured consistencies of the late Cardinal's faith, the guideline of his three-decade ministry as well as his final legacy to his people.

Being well-integrated in the people's faith-culture, he had the capacity to lead them when leadership was needed and move hand-in-hand with them when their faith testimony needed only a facilitator as in the faith festival marking the Marian Congress in 1948 as well as in the critical times of the schools’ takeover in the 1960s.

Marian congress and faith fiesta

The Marian Congress held at St. Joseph's College to mark the centenary of Oblate Missionaries' service leading to the appointment of a native Oblate priest as the Archbishop of the country, was a spectacle of faith.

It showcased the missionary work of the Oblate Fathers as well as the Catholic faith's deep roots in the nation. The special hymn composed by Father Marcelline Jayekody OMI, for this Marian fiesta "Sri Lanka Rani Meeniyee" still sustains the memory of that faith festival as the hymn continues to be sung by young and old as the anthem of Marian devotees nationwide.
Though now forgotten by many, even the words of the English anthem composed by J.P. de Fonseka, a friend of G.K. Chesterton while in England, captured the mood of the times in words such as "Queen of this hour of Lanka's glory".

The young Cooray was a mother's boy. My father used to recall my granny rebuke him on several occasions citing the maternal devotion of Benjamin, the son of her friend, Marigidehaamine. All through his priesthood years until his last days as Archbishop, Cardinal Cooray never missed visiting his mother's grave whenever he passed through Periyamulla. Every time he recalled his mother, in public or in private, tears would well up in his eyes.

The Basilica became a people's project

His love for the Blessed Mother was even deeper and more profound. And he eagerly welcomed the honour of erecting the Tewatta Basilica in fulfilment of the vow his predecessor made in the interest of the country.

Cardinal Cooray did more than erect a Basilica. He used the project as a nationwide networking of Marian devotion-based faith solidarity. The post-war years were a time when people had to tighten belts even more than in recent times. But unlike many current initiatives to go West with the begging bowl for everything and obtain foreign aid even to erect Churches, Cardinal Cooray appealed to the people and they shared of their meagre resources.

The Catholic newspapers ran a weekly column acknowledging every cent contributed by the people for the Basilica Building Fund. Thus he made the Basilica a people's participatory monument of faith.

Every rock stone in it had a story to tell and the Marian plebiscite of the Marian Congress was entombed in the foundation of the Basilica. I interviewed him on the eve of the consecration of the Basilica and the Coronation of the Statue of Our Lady of Lanka. He told me with a great sense of public accountability that "every bit of gold offered by people as votive offerings was saved for the Mother's Crown".

The story of the Basilica had its painful side as well. A few rootless urban Catholics who got carried away by Westerly winds of secularization and misread the teachings of the Second Vatican Council sneered at the Basilica project. Ignorant of the faith-beat of our people, they called the Basilica a waste of money and energy. Today, at least some of them have survived to see the reality of the Cardinal's vision.

If their barbs hurt the Cardinal in his later years, he was not shaken by them. He was a leader who both respected and accepted the people's wisdom, but he also was a no-nonsense man who knew to distinguish between wisdom and prejudice. Today the Basilica has come to stay as a national Marian Shrine and his successor Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando himself has vowed in public to complete work on the edifice if the nation is saved from the ravages of the ongoing war in the North.

Cardinal Cooray was a paragon of integrity who knew when to act and how to act as a leader because he had no concerns other than the welfare of the Church and the nation. He was indeed "a servant of the Gospel and a sign of hope" to his people, decades ahead of the Synod of Bishops, which discussed that theme last October in Rome.

His memory was very much in my mind last month as I invited bureaus of my Church news agency to survey people's opinions whether their Bishops live up to the above theme - which re-echoed Cardinal Cooray's motto, "To serve and not to be served."
By Rev. Fr. Xystus Kurukulasuriya



Negombo gets its name from Meegomuwa meaning honey comb found in a fisheries harbour 150 B.C. Ptlolemy 150 A.D. in his map names the harbour as Priapades. As the fishermen of Galilee, in the Middle East of Asia became the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, in the plan of God in salvation history, the fishermen of Negombo were chosen to become the faithful followers of Jesus Christ Son of God and Saviour, [IXTHUS –FISH].

As the Big Fisherman, Peter the Apostle chose Rome to be his Holy See and the centre of Christianity, so too Negombo was named little Rome in order to fulfill the plan of salvation. It is here salvation history and the path to holiness unfolds itself in the person of Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray, the servant of God.


The parish of Sea Street, Negombo with St. Sebastian’s as the principal church consisted of other villages such as Periyamulla with Our Lady of snows [Ad Nives]

And Dalupotha with St. Anthony”s Church.

A devoted catholic family named Jayalath Aratchige Jacob Cooray and Jayasinghe Aratchige Margarite Silva received the gift of a son on 28th December 1901 into their family of two daughters. God in his divine plan repeated the words of revelation to his chosen little one,“ Even before you were conceived in your mother’s womb I have chosen you”. The baby boy was baptized by the Parish priest, Rev. Fr. Paul N. Alles OMI. On 31st. December 1901 at St. Sebastian’s Church Sea Street, with D.L. Don Carolis and J. Isabella as god parents. The boy grew up in age and wisdom under the shadow of Our Lady of Snows. In 1906 he was admitted to Dalupotha R.C. boy’s school for his primary education. On the 15th October 1910 he received his first holy communion.


The seed of priestly vocation and dedication to our Lady of Snows began to grow within the tender heart of this little boy. Thomas Benjamin was admitted to St. Aloysius Minor seminary at Kynsey road Borella, the nursery of priests and bishops. In 1915 while being a seminarian he went to St. Joseph’s College for his secondary education. As a bright student he was seen collecting his awards on the prize giving day. From 1921 – 1924 he entered University College Colombo and obtained the Bachelor of Arts degree, B,A.(London) specializing in Botany. Full of love for the immaculate heart of Mary, he chose to become an Oblate of Mary Immaculate.


On 24th January 1924 he received the Religious habit and began the novitiate. The day before his first vows 24th January 1924, Brother Thomas Benjamin made this resolution. “Oblation: By this we make a holocaust of ourselves. In holocaust everything was burnt; similarly we offer ourselves to God without any reservation….. I resemble the first oblate in His sacrifice and charity of Calvary…I must be faithful to all my rules…” After the vows on 25th January 1925, the new Oblate writes thus:” I was filled with my sense of unworthiness for the exalted dignity of my being his spouse….” In October 1926 he left for Rome to the Angelicum University. Along with him were Brother Emilianus Pillai and Brother Gurusamy. At the Oblate house in Rome he was put in charge of the Sacristy. He had trouble with a fellow brother from South America.

Fr Perbal, his superior wanted to settle the dispute and asked the brother who was at fault to ask pardon from Brother Benjamin but he flatly refused. Then the superior called Brother Benjamin and asked him if he would obey if a request was made by him. Brother Benjamin humbly said yes. Then the superior told Brother Benjamin, I am going to call the other Brother and you must kneel and ask forgiveness from him. Go to the chapel and pray for fifteen minutes and tell me your decision. Brother Benjamin came back and said I am willing. Then the superior called the other brother to the room and Brother Benjamin fell on his knees and asked pardon. The stubborn Brother was so upset that he began to cry and fell at Brother Benjamin’s feet and said “It is I who should ask forgiveness from you”. God is the potter and we are the clay in His hands. He made his perpetual vows on 25th January 1928. In 1928, he obtained the Ph.D. at the Angelicum University.


He was ordained a priest on 23rd June 1929. He said his first Holy Mass at Maria Maggiore, the Basilica of Our Lady of Snows. He made a personal vow under pain of venial sin in 1931 for the conversion of two fellow priests by joining in the sufferings of Our Lord and offering it through the hands of Mother Mary.

He obtained his Doctor of Divinity in 1931. The title of his thesis was “On the Union of the supreme sufferings and perfect beatitude in the soul of Christ”. The dissertation was made in Latin. This thesis gives the whole vision of his spirituality.
Rev. Fr. Thomas Benjamin returned to the island in July 1931 to undertake his pastoral ministry. While undertaking various pastoral Commitments, he was given the responsibilities as priest, bishop, Archbishop and Cardinal. Now his various pastoral responsibilities are presented and they would be categorized under sub titles.

He was Nominated Coadjutor Archbishop of Colombo under the title as titular Archbishop of Preslaus on 14th December 1945.He is the first Sri Lankan and Sinhalese Archbishop. He was consecrated by Mgr. Leo Kierkels CP, Delegate Apostolic on 6th March 1946. He succeeded Archbishop Masson OMI on 28th July 1947. He resigned from the office of Archbishop of Colombo on 2nd September 1976.


September 1931, he was appointed to the staff of St. Joseph’s college as professor of Botany and Latin. 1934 -1937 he was appointed as warden of the Catholic Undergraduate Students’ University Hostel, Aquinas Hall Colombo 5. Various administrative incidents with the students showed his love and patience, humility and holiness. He initiated the Aquinas University College by granting to Rev. Fr. Peter Pillai OMI the building complex of the former St.Bernard’s Seminary. He established the Ragama Agricultural School.

He established Radio electronic laboratory for Technical Education under the guidance of Rev. Fr. Ignatius Perera. In the late forties (1948 -1950) he shifted the Sinhala training College from Maggona to Bolawalana.


In 1960 he had to face the crisis of Religious Education in schools. Having struggled to save the denominational schools, he was able to save a few private schools. Sunday schools were closed owing to the Poya holiday scheme. He organized the Daham Pasal (Catechetical Schools). He built up the Catechetical Training Center in 1972. He spearheaded the translation of the Bible into Sinhala. He established the Joe Neth communication’s center forseeing the new area of evangelization.


His Motto was “Ministrare non Ministrari” – to serve and not to be served unto.

He established the Social Development Center at the Joe Neth Studio which was later made into a National Socio – Economic Development Center. In order to train Lay Leaders he established Paul VI Center 1972 – 1974, amidst criticism by both government and Catholic reactionaries. He helped in establishing number of Homes for elders and orphanages. He gave guidelines for establishing Fishermen’s Welfare Societies.

Sri Lanka received independence 1948 from Colonial British Empire which left the country and the people divided because they ruled the country under the divide et impera rule. The rise of nationalism and anticolonialism left the Catholic Church as an easy scapegoat for those who were seeking political power. Added to this, the threat of Marxist ideology and Atheistic communism made the Church look for Solutions based on its own social doctrine. This too made the Church appear as being sympathetic to Capitalism. The Archbishop had to guide the Church of Sri Lanka amidst this turmoil. In 1951 he handed over to the Oblates the Complex of St. Vincent’s home. He expanded the rooms for the benefit of the servants at Archbishop’s house and up graded the facilities of the Archbishop’s house for the benefit of the clergy.


In the post Vatican era he had to guide the Church in transforming the Latin Liturgy into Vernacular, Sinhala – Tamil and English. 1958 He organized the National Eucharistic Congress.
Cardinal Cooray loved to recite the breviary with the priests of the Archbishop’s house every evening. At the request of the parish priest, he was the first to give permission to a nun to distribute Holy Communion to the lepers at Hendala hospital.


He extended the building of St. Aloysius Seminary for the intake of more minor seminarians. He established the Haputale, Eymard Intermediate Seminary in 1962. He was the professor of Moral, Pastoral theology and Canon Law at St. Bernard’s Seminary before becoming the Archbishop. Now he was called to establish the National seminary at Ampitiya, administered by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and closed down the Archdiocesan St. Bernard’s Seminary in 1955.. He established the Retreat house at Tewatte in 1963. The Post Vatican era was a time of crisis for the priests. Priests were leaving the priesthood in numbers giving various theological explanations including the innovations of liberation theology. The formation at the National Seminary was called into question. To find a solution, he advocated the take over of the National Seminary by the Catholic Bishops Conference. Finding suitable candidates to be Chaplains of Lay movements was a Cross that he carried with patience.
Some Lay Catholics supported by some Catholic priests were publicly criticizing him. His little chapel was his refuge at night for tears and sighs. Evangelizing the poor was the motto he held in looking out into the mission fields. He singled out Alagollawa of Auradhapura district to become a mission station under his guidance. This village belonged to the Jaffna Diocese but needed special attention. This led to the creation of a Prefecture and now it is developed as the Anuradhapura Diocese.


As a religious, the Archbishop knew the vowed life of the religious and their contribution to the needs of the diocese. In order to establish religious foundations he donated the lands belonging to the diocese, transferred land for a nominal sum with an internal deed and financially assisted them to build their convents and their buildings for education and social work.


In 1962 – 1965 Archbishop Cooray participated at the Second Vatican Council. He was nominated member of the Commission for priestly and Seminary formation. On 22nd February 1965 he was created Cardinal by Pope Paul VI with the title to the Basilica of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, in Rome. He was appointed member of the Cardinals’ Commission of the Propaganda Fide, Oriental Churches and Revision of the Code of Canon Law. In 1969 he was named Papal Delegate to crown Our Lady of the Ocean at Fremantle. 1967 he was the founder member in the central committee of Administration of the Asian Bishops’ Conference. [F.A.B.C.]. In 1970 He welcomed Holy Father Pope Paul VI to Sri Lanka.


While consecrating himself to Mother Mary, in his personal prayer father Thomas Benjamin writes “ ….I salute thee O sure refuge of sinners whose mercy fails no one. Hear the desire of the divine Wisdom; and for that receive the vows and offerings which my lowliness presents to thee, I Thomas Benjamin, a faithless sinner I renew and rectify today in thy hands the vows of my baptism, I renounce for ever Satan ….O faithful Virgin meekness in all things so perfect a disciple, imitator and slave of the incarnate Wisdom Jesus Christ thy Son, that I may attain by thy intercession and thy example the fullness of His age on earth and of His glory in heaven. Amen”.

15th February 1948 mother Mary was declared as Our Lady of Lanka and declared as patroness of Sri Lanka in 11th June 1948 by an Apostolic brief of Pope Pius XII. The first pastoral letter of Archbishop Cooray was a call to consecrate the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 8th.September 1947 and to close it with the feast of the Sacred Heart in 1948. On the 11th of May 1948 he called for a Marian Congress. On the 19th .20th.21st May 1950 the visit of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the Pilgrim Virgin to Sri Lanka was organized. In1952 he received the statue of Our Lady of Lanka. Universal Marian year declared by the Pope on 8th September 1953. He organized in 1956 a Rosary campaign and public processions in reparation for insult done to Our Lady through a scurrilous pamphlet.

The glorious gift of Thomas Cardinal Cooray to Our Lady of Lanka was to build the Basilica and crown Our Lady’s Statue, place in the hands, the Rosary gifted by the Pope and build the Grotto of our Lady of Lourdes with an environment of Lourdes itself by building a water tank and planting trees. Cardinal Cooray was a lover of nature especially he loved trees. Being a Botanist, he knew the trees by name. He planted various shady trees in the premises of the Basilica. Their branches still wave and give glory to God and a peaceful shady atmosphere for pilgrims who come to the shrine. His favourite tree was the NA TREE which today is named as the national tree. Cardinal Cooray in his prophetic vision named the Na Flower as the flower of Our Lady of Lanka and placed it at the feet of Our Lady’s statue long before the Na tree was named the national tree.
From Emmaus, while in retirement and while he was able to walk, Cardinal Cooray would come to the feet of Our Lady of Lanka and pray earnestly for the Country and the Church. In the Crypt he marked out the place where he was to be buried and mediated on death and resurrection. He lies there today waiting for his resurrection. From his tomb His Holiness now spreads like a sweet scent as he offers his prayers for all of us. Many experience his powerful intercession before the Lord in union with Our Lady of Lanka.

You are inivited to write to us any information or your faith experiences with His Eminence Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray, the Servant of God.

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OR Postal address :

Very Rev. Fr. Francis N. Senanayake
Cardinal Cooray Centre,
Tammita, Negombo,

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