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A loving bond built between Scotland and Sri Lanka

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

WHEN we speak about the work of Missio Scotland and our Pontifical Mission Societies partners throughout the world, the same words and phrases always seem to crop up, most notably ‘universality,’ ‘solidarity’ and ‘brothers and sisters in Faith.’

The universality of our faith, to some extent speaks for itself, with around 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, making it the biggest religion on earth.

Within that universality, there has to be solidarity, something Pope Francis has stressed on many occasions, such as during his World Day for the Poor message last year when he said: “The sense of community and of communion as a style of life increases and a sense of solidarity matures. “As members of a civil society, let us continue to uphold the values of freedom, responsibility, fraternity, and solidarity, and as Christians, let us always make charity, faith and hope the basis of our lives and our actions.”

At their best, there are no greater examples of solidarity than those which exists between families and Fr Basil Rohan Fernando, the National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Sri Lanka, was quick to point that out when he heard that Missio Scotland would be supporting projects in his country.

“Your support is a blessing from God,” he said. “This will help us to grow spiritually and materially. It’s really joyful to know that the Faithful in Scotland are showing their love to the Sri Lankan people. You may be in Scotland and we may be in Sri Lanka, but we are one human family. We are one. And you can be assured of our daily prayers for you. You have shared what you have with us and we will share our hearts and our prayers with you. We will not forget the generosity of our brothers and sisters in Scotland.”

A tale of two shrines Those key components of our Faith—universality, solidarity and family—are evident in two more of the projects that Missio Scotland is supporting in Sri Lanka, with one having parallels with a much-loved religious site in Scotland.

Carfin Grotto is Scotland’s National Shrine. Built as a result of the vision of Canon Thomas Taylor, who arrived in the town as parish priest to St Francis Xavier’s Church, it originated to fulfil the needs of Scotland’s Faithful. Having trained as a priest in St Sulpice Seminary in Paris, France and having special devotions to both Our Lady and St Therese of Lisieux, Canon Taylor was no stranger to the Little Flower’s hometown and to Lourdes as well. As parish priest, he took some of his parishioners on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and so enthralled were they with it, that they asked him to build a replica of the Lourdes Shrine in Carfin, given that most people didn’t have the financial wherewithal to be able to go to France. The seed of that idea germinated and—thanks to the support of out-of-work Catholic labourers over a period of two years—grew into Carfin Grotto in 1922, which has continued to bloom right up to the present day.

“Carfin Grotto has evolved greatly over the years,” Fr Jim Grant, guardian of the grotto and parish priest of St Francis Xavier’s, said. “Last year we celebrated its centenary and I suspect that the Canon would have marvelled at just how big it has grown and how many statues had been added to this dream of a grotto in Carfin.

“It fulfilled a wonderful need for people to come together in devotions and in prayer. It became quite a normal thing for families to walk from the local villages here to Carfin Grotto and to visit the different shrines and to meet up with others. So, it provided that outlet if you like for pious devotion and prayer where people saw themselves very much as members of a Catholic community outside of their own parishes.

“So, it fulfils a need in the soul for a place where people can come and connect with God with spiritual matters and you see that very, very much, with people of all ages, young, male, female, coming voluntarily, if you like, just to spend some time here in the grotto to perhaps get a bit of peace. My role is to encourage that and to somehow feed them spiritually when they do come—through liturgies, through music, through Masses and so on.”

“I have to say too that I was tremendously proud when Bishop Joseph Toal declared Carfin Grotto to be the National Marian Shrine and I’m grateful to God and to Our Blessed Lady, that I have been entrusted, then with this wonderful national treasure.”

In the town of Galgamuwa in Sri Lanka, the Faithful there—and indeed throughout the country—have a similarly strong devotion to St Joseph Vaz, their patron saint, and share a desire to develop their National Shrine to him. Despite being small and humble, the shrine to the saint who travelled throughout Sri Lanka and rebuilt the Catholic Church there after the imposition of Calvinism, has its own special road and contains the saint’s own wooden cross. Each year, thousands of Sri Lankan pilgrims travel along that road to the shrine to venerate that cross.

It is the increased number of visitors to the site that has prompted the Church there to enlarge the shrine and thus seek help from Missio Scotland to help make that dream—like that of Canon Taylor’s with Carfin—a reality. The foundations have already been lain for the new church at the site, which will be around 18,000 square feet in size and capable of accommodating 2500 people. Like Carfin in the 1920s, local people have pledged their labour to help construct the church, which can now continue apace thanks to the support from Missio Scotland.

“The National Shrine is very important to the Catholics of Sri Lanka and I, like them have a very deep devotion to St Joseph Vaz, because he laboured for our Faith in Sri Lanka” Fr Rufus Thalis, the priest in charge of the National Shrine said. “Their hope is that we will grow and build up the shrine and the pilgrims will come and worship in their droves. Our people have promised to contribute many things and help with the building and construction and so on. Hopefully, very soon, we will fulfill our dream.”

Fr Basil added: “The shrine is not simply something for that area, that diocese or that parish, it will help support the whole faithful of Sri Lanka. It is being built to recognise more fully the first saint of Sri Lanka, who really safeguarded the Faith of our people. So, by supporting this shrine you are supporting the whole Faithful because all those who come to the shrine will do so to pray, take part in pilgrimages, enjoy activities, spend time as a family, as a group, as a church and so on.”

Hall you need is love Elsewhere in the Diocese of Kurunegala, Missio Scotland is aiming to help bring together Catholics from in and around the rural area of Imbulgoda. While on mission, the Missio Scotland team was treated to a wonderful Children’s Day celebration at the Infant Jesus Church—a substation of the larger St Sebastian’s parish in the town. As well as a beautiful Mass, where the children became fully fledged members of the Holy Childhood—or Missionary Children as it’s known in Scotland—the young Catholics also showcased their musical and dancing talents to all those assembled in the church grounds before taking part in some fun and games and enjoying some traditional fayre. It was a fabulous experience and an excellent visual of a living breathing parish.

To enhance this sense of community and to help host more events like this in the near future, a new Church Hall is being erected thanks to your support for Missio Scotland, which has allowed us to provide financial assistance to the Faithful there to erect this two-storey edifice. The hall will provide a focal point for its parishioners, in particular the schoolchildren, who will receive extra tuition, religious formation and have a place to meet up with their friends who they might not get to interact with much outside of school. Many children in Sri Lanka exist in a vicious circle of abuse and neglect. Often, one of their parents has to leave home and travel many miles—sometimes to other countries and across continents—to find work. This, in turn, can lead to the remaining parent turning to vices and neglecting or abusing their children as a result.

“The Church has a responsibility—especially within the Pontifical Mission Societies—to start so many practical programmes to educate and safeguard our children and to give them a good proper formation,” Fr Basil said. “This project is excellent because this is a missionary area and when this hall is built, the priest can bring all the children together for formation programmes, daily activities, Sunday school and tuition classes for them. It will be multipurpose, and it will have a big impact.”

And that point is key. All the projects supported this year—and every year—by Missio Scotland and our Pontifical Mission Societies partners worldwide have a real impact on the lives of the people who benefit from them. However, the benefit is mutual too because these projects allow us to understand more fully the universality of Church, what solidarity really means and that we are part of a worldwide family of faith who love us just as much as we love them. And it is our duty to strengthen that loving bond in whatever way we can.

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To donate to Missio Scotland, visit: call on: 01236 449774 or send donations to: Missio Scotland, St. Andrews, 4 Laird Street, Coatbridge ML5 3LJ

You can also now donate to Missio Scotland via text. Text MISSIOSCOT to 70085 to donate £3 or MISSIOSCOT with any number between 1-20 after it to donate your desired amount (For example MISSIOSCOT 10 will donate £10). Thank You.


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