THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND INTER-RELIGIOUS RECONCILIATION IN SRI LANKA BETWEEN RELIGIONS
Posted on September 3rd, 2019

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

The most impressive picture that people of Sri Lanka and overseas seen in media recently was the paying homage to the tooth relic of the Buddha at the Dalada Maligava in Kandy by Archbishop Malcolm Rajith. At that time Mahanayake Thera Most Venerable Tibbotuwave Medankara Thero and Chairman of the Association of Bishops, Cardinal Guatotero Bassitti also joined with him. Inter-religious reconciliation or acceptance and harmony with other religions began in the Catholic Church with effect from the Second Vatican Council and the recommendations of the council were well received by the catholic church in Sri Lanka and how to implement the recommendations in the country were discussed by a national seminar in 1968.  Sri Lanka had a slow process on this matter, but it was broadly accepted at the grassroots level in the country as Buddhist and Catholic people have been living together at regional and urban levels in Sri Lanka since before the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith has been actively participating in the process of the acceptance of other religions and several catholic priests actively associated with the inter-religious reconciliation, especially, Rev. Fr. Earnest Porutota and Rev.Fr. Siri Oscar Abeyratne must be mentioned at this moment, appreciating their contribution to the process. Highest Leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Paul VI visiting Sri Lanka in 1970 further strengthened this process meeting with Buddhist Theros in the country.

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka had a distance with the government due to nationalization of catholic schools by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in 1963 and the Minister of Education at the nationalization process was Mr. Baudeen Mohamod, who expressed that the nationalization was to establish a national education policy to the country, but it was not clearly or successfully implemented as expected by people.  The catholic church’s stand on the nationalization of religious schools, which were supported by the government had been criticized by different people in the country based on misguided point of views.  However, since the era of St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, the provision of education to the community as a role of the church had been identified by the catholic church.  The vicious effects of neglecting to establish a national education policy and practically not implementing the inter-religious reconciliation have reflected by the Bomb attacks of Easter Sunday in this year. If there is a national education policy, most probably educating comparative religion to kids in all schools without religious difference, the bomb disaster would have avoided and so-called Madrasa schools for a religion might not establish in the country and the religious education would not direct to train suicide bombers in schools.  This is a debatable opinion but it is my personal view.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith has given the highest respect to Buddhism as a Catholic leader and is actively leading catholic people in the country to expand inter-religious reconciliation or harmony.  The reconciliation has become a controversial process in Sri Lanka based on the politicization of inter-racial reconciliation by the yahapalana regime as the practical policies of the yahapalana regime reflected unacceptable behaviour to common people.  There misconception in the country that the catholic church and catholic people have no respect for the nationality, country and its traditional culture, however, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith successfully changed this attitude and two catholic ministers sacrificed their lives in the war and many ordinary Sinhala Catholics as soldiers sacrifices lives at the war

The history of the beginning of religions to planet earth indicates that phenomena of religions were to help human to live together and despite mythical views of some religions, religions have played a supreme role in human civilization and many critics have not clearly understood this truth.  It also seems that the role of religions has gone to extremism intending to destroy the human. In this discussion it is also important to accept the views expressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Reverend Justin Welby met with the Mahanayaka Theoros of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters of Siyam Nikaya that “extremist elements could be seen in every religion and every country and religious leaders have a duty to act against them.” He also stated that religion is not the source of violent emotions.  The Anglican Church also made tremendous contribution to Sri Lanka’s post-independence politics, especially Mr. S.W.R.D Bandaranaike bought wealthy Anglicans to politics in Sri Lanka. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family also strongly associated with the Anglican Church.

People have no firm idea whether the philosophical messages of religions are true or false because as the true experience of religious philosophies to individual would be experienced by after the death of an individual and the death destroys the material body of individual and the visibility of individual also will be destroyed at this stage and as Plato stated only humanness would remain for each person.  As Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith demonstrated people need to respect all religions. As living human being people don’t exactly know which philosophical views of different religions are authentic and accepting and respecting to each other are the most significant behavior.  As the social philosophy of all religions is similar, it is not difficult to working together when implementing the social philosophy of all religions.

Extremism about religious ideas and racism have led to terrorism in the world and both ideas have no truth if it deeply analyses the points given in the concepts or ideas.  As the Canterbury Archbishop stated religion is not the source of violent emotions to kill each other. the Catholic church may have realized the fact about the emptiness of the concepts of extreme views on religious concepts as Jesus Christ disclosed to the world.  Jesus Christ as the son of God disclosed two significant roles that were to believe God with devoting and love the neighbor, but in the modern world believers have gone too far beyond the commandments of Jesus Christ and many mythical practices included opening ways for extremism.

Practically, extremism is the way for destruction and when a religion or a race attempts to go for extremism it would lead to rejecting the religion by own followers as well as ending the religion killing each other to destroy followers and end the religion.  It can be seen in Middle East countries.  There a considerable trend in Middle East counties to reject Islamic ideas.  

The catholic church stands on its feet as Jesus Christ expressed its beginning and ordinary believers accept that if they follow what Jesus advised nobody can destroy the church and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith clearly stated that Buddhism in Sri Lanka is the main part of a log and other regions like branches have connected to the tree and if the Buddhism safeguards in the country all other religions would be supported to exist, otherwise all other religions would be destroyed.

The concept of Taweed is accepted by many religions including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and many others except Buddhism, which teaches a world of gods, in which gods will be punished if they do wrong and gods will lose the status of god as a result of wrongdoing. These are concepts of human and scientifically they were not proven.  The other important point is that to learn a religion it is not necessary to use a language used by the originator. It is not true that to learn Buddhism Pali language or Christianity Semitic language or Islam Arabic are needed.  To learn a religion, stating learning requirement of specific language is a fabricated story and books of religions have translated to English and they are enough to understand the religion. In Sri Lanka major issue is many people are blind on the religion that they are devoting without understanding the messages of other religions. Prof. Santa Ratnayake (Ex Buddhist Monk Medagampola Sumana Santa) publicly stated that the role of religion to taking people to convincing grace from the fallen stage (in Sinhala helping to achieve Visuddhiya) and all religions are supposed to play this role. Therefore, teaching comparative religion to kids in schools without religious difference would support inter-religious reconciliation or harmony

One Response to “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND INTER-RELIGIOUS RECONCILIATION IN SRI LANKA BETWEEN RELIGIONS”

  1. Mario Perera Says:

    Thank you Edward T for your interesting and conciliatory article.

    The past history of the Catholic Church was such that it led to animosity between Catholics (and all Christians in a larger sense) and the Buddhists (monks and followers). The greatest disadvantages that Catholics brought on themselves was through their heavy leaning on the powers that colonized this country. After Independence that leaning was on the UNP who were successors to the colonial heritage. The leaning of the Catholic Church on the UNP was such that JRJ once challenged the Church with the words: for whom else can you vote but US.

    What did the greatest damage to the Catholic image was a sentence attributed to Jesus in the gospels, being: go and evangelize all nations. To ‘evangelize’ meant in its widest sense ‘to teach’. Hence the running of Catholic schools became the sacrosanct self-imposed obligation of the Church authorities. This attitude reached its peak during the school take-over under Sirima (who herself was the product, just as her daughters, of the Catholic school system). The then Cardinal Thomas Cooray was ready to shed the blood of Catholics to safeguard the schools.

    But HISTORY is the greatest teacher of all (Historia magistra vitae). History even teaches the faithful how they should interpret what was assumed to be sacrosanct divine dictates. History taught the Catholic Church how the divine command to ‘evangelize all nations’ should be interpreted.

    Then slowly and surely fences began to be mended. The greatest ‘position taking’ took place during the war. The Church was openly divided between Tamil and Sinhala. Tamil clergymen especially the infamous duo Rayappu Joseph and S.J.Emmanuel (especially the latter) brazenly pulled the Church behind LTTE line. As for the Catholic Sinhala youth they took up arms and laid down their lives to safeguard Mother Lanka.

    During this period the Vatican kept MUM. This made realization dawn that Sri Lankan Catholics had no obligations to the Vatican when it came to national issues, especially the safeguard of the Motherland. Edward T mentions to eminent Catholic priests: Ernest Poruthota and Oscar Abeyratne. One who was pre-eminent in this sense was the late Fr.Tissa Balasuriya.

    The fraternal trend towards Buddhism thus has a long history. Archbishop Oswald Gomez used to offer DAANEY to monks at the Archbishop’s house. And now Cardinal Malcolm Ranjit has totally turned the face of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka towards acknowledging the preeminence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The safeguard of Buddhism is the surest way of safeguarding other religious beliefs of the country: that Buddhism is the protector of Srilankan Catholicism and not its enemy.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

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