Origin and development of Sri Lankan Mission
Conventual Franciscan presence in India was very open to the missionary nature of the Order and keeping this in mind we decided to expand ourselves in the other states of India. Our first exploration was in Andhra Pradesh and we have undertaken a parish in 2001 and after a year another parish. Though there was lack of personnel in the Custody we took it as our responsibility to reach out to the missions. As the members grew steadily and the friaries as well, we felt that it was time to request to the Province of Malta to begin the process of erecting the Custody as a Province. Thus, The Ordinary Custodial Chapter of 2003 decided to request to the Province of Malta to forward to the General Definitory the request to erect India as a Province.
After evaluating the reports of the Chapter, the Minister General, Most Rev. Fr. Joachim Giermek wrote to the Provincial Custos, “…..I would encourage the Custodial fraternity to begin to prepare for the missionary development beyond the confines of India itself. Though that might not seem an attainable goal in the immediate future, it is not too early to think of identifying possible sites for expansion, encouraging particular missionary vocations, beginning linguistic and cultural preparations among the friars. To these ends I encourage the Custody of India to begin discussions (if it has not done so already), both internally (within the Custody) and externally (together with other members of the FAAMC).” (Dated 31 July 2003, Prot. N. 545/03). The Minister General wrote another letter to Fr. Custos on January 11, 2004 (Prot. N. 26/04), confirming the discussion he had with him during the FAMMC meeting at Nagasaki regarding a mission “ad gentes”. He continued by stating, “It is essential first and foremost to have an expressed willingness on the part of the Custody to accept such possibility” that is a mission “ad gentes.”
In reply to the request of the Minister General, the Provincial Custos wrote to him on 02 February 2004 (N. 028.04). In the letter, he stated that in the Definitory Meeting held on 31 January 2004, decided unanimously by secret vote to accept a mission ‘ad gentes’ and to consider the possibility of taking up the Mission in Sri Lanka, which is close to South India.
In the meantime, the Minister General assigned Fr. Mathew Purayidom, his particular Secretary for the English language, to visit Sri Lanka and make contacts with the bishops and see the best place to open our mission. Accordingly Fr. Mathew contacted the Archbishop of Colombo, visited him on 15 June 2004 (his visit to Sri Lanka, 14 – 18 June), and discussed with him our project for Sri Lanka. The Archbishop accepted our request to open our Mission in his Archdiocese and offered a place at Suduwella with a station Church in Tudella Parish. As a follow up, Fr. Mathew together with Rev. Fr. Tadeusz Swiatkowski, Secretary General for the Missions, from October 09 – 14, 2004 and Rev. Fr. Giorgio Silvestri from November 27 – 28, 2004, visited the place offered by the Bishop in Sri Lanka.
The Minister General, in his letter to the Ministers and Custodes of the Order dated 1 April 2004 wrote: “The same Provincial Custody of India has agreed, while continuing to evangelize other states of India, to also assist the Order in founding a Mission outside of the Country, most probably in Sri Lanka.”
The Minister General in the meantime contacted the Archbishop of Colombo when he was in Rome. According to the directions of the Minister General Fr. Mathew visited Sri Lanka from June 21 – 24, 2005 and continued the discussions with the Archbishop. He also visited the site and other sites for our first Friary. To get a more detailed and elaborate study on the Sri Lankan project, the Definitory decided to send Fr. Antony Nallukunnel to Sri Lanka for one month in the same year.
For a final preparation and seeing the place, Fr. Mathew Purayidom and Fr. Peter Kannampuzha spent the few days from February 11 – 26, 2006 in Sri Lanka and they participated in the Comprehensive Course on Franciscan Missionary Charism (CCFMC) and met the Franciscans in Sri Lanka. With the invitation of the Archbishop, Friar Peter Kannampuzha, the pioneer missionary started his missionary experience in Sri Lanka on 01 June 2006. Fr. Mathew also accompanied him to Sri Lanka on that day, met the Archbishop, and made all the arrangements to stay at the National Basilica of Our Lady of Sri Lanka. Besides, Fr. Shaji Kaniyaparambil stayed there from September 2006 to February 2007 and returned definitively from there.
During the first Provincial Chapter in August 2007, the Sri Lankan Mission was an important matter for discussion and the Chapter decided to take up this mission and proceed with the process of establishing it.