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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sri Lanka: the pope, the Jesuits, the inquisition and the civil war

- Francis Xavier requesting John III of Portugal for a Catholic expedition in Portuguese India

Sri Lanka Buddhists Demand Apology From Pope Francis Over Christian Colonial Rule. The pope's planning to travel to Sri Lanka and some there aren't happy about it - so what's up? It has to do with Catholicism in Sri Lanka, both past and present.

First, the past, with a visit to the Goa inquisition ...

The Goa Inquisition was the office of the Portuguese Inquisition acting in Portuguese India, and in the rest of the Portuguese Empire in Asia. It was established in 1560, briefly suppressed from 1774–1778, and finally abolished in 1812 ... St. Francis Xavier, in a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, requested an Inquisition to be installed in Goa .... The inquisitor's first act was to forbid any open practice of the Hindu faith on pain of death. Sephardic Jews living in Goa, many of whom had fled the Iberian Peninsula to escape the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition to begin with, were also persecuted. The narrative of Da Fonseca describes the violence and brutality of the inquisition. The records speak of the necessity for hundreds of prison cells to accommodate the accused. From 1560 to 1774, a total of 16,172 persons were tried and condemned or acquitted by the tribunals of the Inquisition. While it also included individuals of different nationalities, the overwhelming majority—nearly three fourths were natives, almost equally represented by Christians and non-Christians. Many of these were hauled up merely for crossing the border and cultivating lands there. Seventy-one autos de fé were recorded ....

Yep, we're talking about that Francis Xavier = the friend of Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first Jesuits, celebrated for his missionary zeal in the Far East and whose bodily relics reside in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. An interview I saw today comments on this - 'Xavier was aware of the brutality of the Inquisition' ...

Francis Xavier and Simão Rodrigues, two founder-members of the Society of Jesus were together in Lisbon before Francis Xavier left for India. Both were asked to assist spiritually the prisoners of the Inquisition and were present at the very first auto-da-fé celebrated in Portugal in September 1540, at which 23 were absolved and two were condemned to be burnt, including a French cleric. Hence, Francis Xavier could not have been unaware of the brutality of the Inquisition.

Modernly, the Jesuits have been involved in helping the Tamil people (Hindus, Muslims, Catholics) during and since the civil war in Sri Lanka. Here's an article from the Australian Jesuits: Why Tamils flee Sri Lanka. Related: a Wikipedia article on Jesuit Eugene John Hebert, who died in Sri Lanka during the civil war. There seems to be something of a rift in the Sri Lanka Catholic Church, but the possible perception that the Catholic Church has and does support the Tamils (and Tamil Tigers) as opposed to the majority Buddhist government may also help explain why the pope's visit to Sri Lanka might be considered controversial by some.


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