Francis plans to visit the island nation from January 13-15 and then travel onto the Philippines to meet with survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. The archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said he hoped that the Vatican would give final approval to the sainthood case of India-born Reverend Joseph Vaz so that Francis himself could celebrate the canonisation Mass at Colombo's Galle Face Green.
"We are hopeful," Ranjith said. Vaz was born in Goa, India, in 1651 but chose to work in Sri Lanka amid persecution of Catholics by Dutch colonial rulers, who were Calvinists. Vaz is credited with having revived the Catholic faith in the country, using disguises and learning the local Sinhala and Tamil languages to meet secretly with underground Catholics. He died in 1711.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the final hurdle, approval of a miracle attributed to Vaz's intercession, was before the Vatican's saint-making office.
"It's possible that the decision of the congregation and that of the pope might come relatively quickly, so that it will be possible to celebrate the canonisation during the Sri Lanka trip," he said.
Ranjith said the miracle under study concerned a Sri Lankan doctor couple who, against medical advice, refused to abort one of their twins and prayed for Vaz's intercession. St John Paul II beatified Vaz during his 1995 visit to Colombo, the first major step in his sainthood process.
While visiting South Korea last month, Francis beatified 124 Korean martyrs and promised to give Asia more saints, after a young Cambodian complained her country had none.
Francis is particularly keen on raising up as saints martyrs and others who fought Christian persecution, seeing them as models for Catholics today.