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Ambassador Julius Pranevičius visits Kandy in Sri Lanka on the trail of Lithuanian born archbishop Ladislaus Michael Zalesky‘s legacy
The first mission of Ambassador Julius Pranevičius, as the newly accredited Ambassador of Lithuania to Sri Lanka, was the visit to Kandy (city in Central Sri Lanka), where Lithuanian born Apostolic Delegate, Vladislovas Mykolas Zaleskis (1852-1925), had established the Papal Seminary in 1893.
Ambassador Pranevičius was warmly received by the Rector of the Seminary Very Revd. Fr. Expeditus Jayakody and Head of Seminary‘s administration Revd. Fr. Pradeep Chaminda. While taking a round of the Seminary grounds Fr. Rector showed Ambassador the very spot, where Zalesky was said to stand on the mountain of Ampitya, gazing down at the luscious green Dumbara valley and the winding river below, the landscape quite reminiscent of the one in the birthplace of Zalesky, Veliuona in Lithuania. Zalesky had decided this to be the most suitable place for the Seminary, and has been remembered and appreciated till date by the generations of Seminary‘s inhabitants for this felicitous selection as a person of great insight.
From 1892 for nearly 30 years Zalesky was an Apostolic Delegate in the East Indies, the area of his official activities ranged from Afganistan and the Himalayas in the north, to Ceylon and the neighbouring islands of the Indian Ocean in the south. When not travelling Archbishop Zalesky resided in Kandy, where the Papal Seminary, founded by him in 1893, has produced 51 bishops and three cardinals over the years.
Soon after the independence of India and Sri Lanka, in 1955 the Papal Seminary shifted to Pune in India, and Kandy Seminary became National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, which celebrated it‘s 50 –ieth Jubilee in 2005, and currently hosts around 150 students and about 20 of teaching staff.
Archbishop Zalesky had also commissioned to build a small chapel on the grounds of Ampitiya hill from his personal funds, so seminarians would have a place to pray, before the main church of the Seminary was built. Now the chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Joseph Vaz (1651-1711) an Indian priest, by whose life Zalesky was inspired and was instrumental for his Canonization.
Zalesky was fascinated by botanical science and gathered the large collection of images of tropical plants numbering about 35,000 of Indo-Malay flora. He was also the author of several travel and ethnographic works, which ran into more than seven and a half thousand pages in print.
Archbishop Zalesky had truly made himself at home in Kandy and even brought here the replica of famous painting of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn from Lithuania‘s capital Vilnius. Today the same painting is celebrated in the Ampitya‘s St. Mary parish church and local catholic community reveres the Lady of the Gate of Dawn as their beloved Mother. The Ampitiya parish priest Rev. Fr. Nayagam Roy Clarence kindly received Ambassador Pranevičius and invited him to visit the St. Mary church. Coincidentally, upon arrival of Ambassador to the church, the local community had gathered for the first holy mass after a long break of 2,5 weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks in Colombo where catholic churches were targeted, and had left the whole country and the world astir. Therefore the unanticipated address by Ambassador Pranevičius to the local catholic community during the holy mass, was a reassuring message of support and solidarity from a far away country Lithuania, a birthplace of their patron archbishop Msgr. Ladislaus Zalesky and home of their beloved Mother- Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn.
In 1916 Zalesky‘s mission had ended after almost 30 years of residence in Asia. He returned to Rome where he lived for rest of his life till his death in 1925. Following his wish to be burried among those for whom he laboured, the remains of Msgr. Zalesky have been brought to Pune in 1955 and now rest in the chapel of the Papal Seminary.
Msgr. Ladislaus Michael Zalesky is the third recently re-discovered Lithuanian born catholic priest connecting Lithuania with Sri Lanka and India in South Asia region.