Monday, July 26, 2010

Sri Lanka 10 - A Catholic Feast

Sri Lankan Catholics - about 7% of the population - celebrate their parish feasts with great festivity. The Catholicism on the Island comes via the Portuguese who arrived in 1505. They called the island Ceil√£o, thus the name Ceylon. [I have fond childhood memories of my mother drinking Lipton's Tea from Ceylon.]

I am in the parish of St. James Church, Mutwal.  They celebrate their patronal feast with grand exuberance!  Poles with crosses on top, like ship masts, are raised throughout the area. Red and white banners, like sails, fly in the wind. 

Even the streets and the church parking lot are decorated with banners in anticipation.

There is a solemn novena to St. James.  Hymn singing, a litany, the rosary and Mass are all broadcast over speakers every evening from 7 to 9 pm. It drowns out everything for about a mile around! An arch decorated with coconuts is constructed for the feast.

I attended the final evening Mass in Sinhala.  St. James' Day fell on a Sunday this year. Well before Mass, people were coming up just to touch the statue of St. James that would be carried in procession...

vendors lined the procession route...

and people stopped by to see the "boat" St. James would be carried in. (btw - I vote Sri Lankan women the best dressed of anywhere I've been in the world.  Colorful and elegant at all times. Whether in saris, salvars, dresses or skirts, they are always beautifully attired.)

After Mass, the procession through the streets began.  There were throngs of people vying for the best vantage point.

The procession wound its way, under lighted arches, to the sounds of loud fireworks and four marching bands. They pulled out all the stops for their parish feast day!

It was an amazing nine days.

I prayed for the people of St. Benedict's this week.  May our parish community be filled with exuberance too!

For more information about St. James, the parish or the annual novena, visit the website of St. James Church, Mutwal at:

Peace and blessings from Colombo,
your deacon.