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Sri Lankans redouble efforts for first saint

Catholics urged to speed up the process on the 31st anniversary of Cardinal Cooray's death

ucanews reporter, Negombo

ucanews reporter, Negombo

Updated: October 29, 2019 03:12 AM GMT
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Sri Lankans redouble efforts for first saint

A statue of Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray in front of Our Lady of Snows Church in Periyamulla. (ucanews photo)

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Catholics in Sri Lanka have stepped up their efforts for Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray to be canonized on the 31st anniversary of his death. 

They staged a flurry of activities in Negombo on Oct. 26-27, including competitions, an exhibition, a Holy Mass plus commemorative speeches and prayers in their quest for him to become the first native saint of the local Church.

Laksitha Fernando, a Catholic teacher who attended the tributes, recalled that when the Sri Lankan government took over the country’s Catholic-run private schools in 1960, Cardinal Cooray opposed the move.

“At the beginning of World War II, Oblate Archbishop Jean Marie Masson, the last Frenchman to be metropolitan of the country, had made a vow to build a shrine in honor of Our Lady in Tewatta if the country was spared from the ravages of the war, but he could not fulfill the vow during his time,” said Fernando. “Cardinal Cooray kept the vow and built the beautiful National Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka.”

Fernando took a group of Sunday school children to visit the Cardinal Cooray exhibition at St. Mary’s Church in Grand Street, Negombo.

“Little Benjamin Cooray had the courage to sell hoppers and sweets to help his mother to earn an income to survive and run the family,” he said. “Little Benjamin also worked diligently to build Our Lady of Snows church in Periyamulla,” he added, showing some photographs of the building.

Hundreds of schoolchildren visited an exhibition at St. Mary’s Church, Negombo, to remember Cardinal Thomas Benjamin Cooray. (ucanews photo)

'Sainthood in our lifetime'

Cardinal Cooray was born on Dec. 28, 1901, in the parish of Periyamulla, ordained on June 23, 1929, for the congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, made an coadjutor bishop in 1945 before heading the diocese as the first local-born bishop two years later. He was appointed a cardinal on Feb.22, 1965, retired in 1976 and died on Oct. 29, 1988, aged 86.

In the first step toward sainthood, Pope Benedict XVI declared him to be a servant of God on Nov. 22, 2010, after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints gave its approval to begin the canonization cause.

A committee was set up to examine the evidence of the many faithful who said they had witnessed a miracle through Cardinal Cooray’s intervention — a verified miracle must be attributed to the candidate’s intercession and a second miracle is necessary for canonization to be approved.

Bishop Valence Mendis of Chilaw called for united prayer across the country. “May we be heard and seen to be raising him to sainthood in our lifetime,” said Bishop Mendis.

Nalika Kasthuri, a Sunday school teacher, said that the faithful often went to pray at his tomb and in doing so had experienced miracles.

“He gave a life of righteousness and integrity and rendered immense service to the Catholic Church,” she said. “May we pray that it may be good to join him in the saints of heaven.”

An archdiocese canonization committee will comply with the request and seal and dispatch it in due course after a ceremonial closure of the local process. 

Cardinal Cooray is the first Sinhalese bishop for whom a cause for canonization has been launched.

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