December 09, 2022
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    Catholic-Buddhist togetherness

    May 29, 2019

    Every cloud is unique and has its own different silver lining, the Easter Sunday carnage triggered an unprecedented religious and racial unity among Sri Lankans. The celebration of Easter or the Paschal mystery of Christ is the principal feast in the Liturgical calendar of the Church. This year the coincidence of Palm Sunday with Sinhala and Hindu New Year made a great opportunity for all to show their unity devoid of differences like race, religious, caste, creed, and customs and enjoy the festive season as Sri Lankans.

    As reported six months ago, long before the Easter Sunday attacks, His Eminence, Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith remarked, “Rights of all people in this country are safeguarded when Buddhist culture is safeguarded. Anti-religious ideologies are being filtered into the society today. We have to put them aside and safeguard religions,” he expressed these views at the prize giving of Kanduboda Shri Saranankara Daham Pasala in Delgoda.

    He said there were intimidation posed on religions at present and added that Buddhism was the backbone of this nation and it was a religion which had been pursued by the people in this country for a long time.

    Cardinal set an example to all religious and political leaders when he said no to the bullet-proof vehicle given to him by the government. He warned the Catholic community to remain calm and take steps prudently in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bloodshed. They helped officials to guide the country to safety without a hostile response. That was true leadership. Politicians should copy that example.

    “I told the government that I can ensure my security without a bullet-proof vehicle,” he said that he was not aware that it was a bullet proof car. “I am sure the God will protect me. If I am to be killed by someone, I am ready to face it as well”.

    Singhalese a charitable race

    Sinhala people have always been recognized as a charitable race through ages. It is this conceited position of our great nation that is being maligned by a few extremist goons who label themselves as “Sinhala-Buddhists”, which is certainly a misnomer, an inappropriate designation. A Buddhist is a believer of Dhamma as proclaimed by the Buddha, in which there is no place for race, caste, creed or any such divisions of human kind.

    Buddhism which has been the ethical and sacred religious force in the island in the last 2300 years, having endured a period of four and a half centuries of discrimination and prejudices directed at it under colonial rule. However, it does not face any serious challenge from any religious movement local or foreign funded organisations based in the country. It is unfortunate that small section of extremists/racist elements are calling for boycott of Muslim business in the island. The Buddhists leaders, especially the Maha Sangha should also play an essential role in dispelling and speak up against this kind of imposition of sanctions and calls aimed at creating further divisions in our motherland.

    Call for boycott of Muslim business

    Fourth largest religion in the world, Buddhism, claims about 570 million devotees, or about 7% of the world’s population. Even in the West where less than 1% identify themselves as Buddhist, major bookstores stock articles and books about Buddhism dwarfing shelves on Islam or Hinduism. Some bookstores display the Dalai Lama’s works alongside those of Pope John Paul II.

    Sri Lankan Constitution provides for Freedom of Religion

    Constitution of Sri Lanka (1978) - Article 10 states that ‘Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice’.

    Article 14 (1) (e) - ‘Every person is entitled to the freedom either by himself or in association with others, and either in public or in private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching’.

    Article 15(4) - Fundamental Rights declared by Article 14 (1) (e) ‘shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of racial and religious harmony or national economy.’

    Article 15(7) - Fundamental Rights declared in Article 14 ‘shall be subject to such restrictions as may be prescribed by law in the interests of national security, public order and the protection of public health or morality, or for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others, or of meeting the just requirements of the general welfare of a democratic society.’

    Christian Missionary work in Ceylon

    Europeans, especially the Portuguese and Dutch entered Asian regions in the 16th century, driven by two motives, colonising with the intention of engaging in trade, exploitation of resources, and secondly spreading Christianity. The Portuguese who arrived in 1505 used brutal terror to govern the coastal regions for 150 years, until the Dutch chased them in 1658. The Portuguese forced Dharmapala to renounce Buddhism and adopt Catholicism in 1557: the King and Queen became Don Juan and Dona Catherina. The Portuguese thought that it was their duty to destroy Buddhism: hence temples (including Kelaniya temple) were destroyed, ancient manuscripts were set fire to. A celebrated civilisation and a gracious culture was viciously ruined. The main inheritance of the Portuguese was the Catholic religion they had established into Sri Lanka.

    The Dutch were mainly Protestants, they ruled the Maritime Provinces from 1658. Being members of the Dutch Reformed Church, they took steps to widen their account of Christianity marginalizing Catholism. Christian schools were established and they trained local people drawn among Sinhala and Tamil, to perform as Christian ministers. They acted against not only Buddhists but Catholics as well. Registration fees of Catholic marriages was increased many-fold. They declared Buddhists and Catholics unsuitable to hold state occupations. Catholic priests had to carry out sermons from hiding places. Fr. Antonio, who was responsible for initiating the building of St Anthony’s church at Kochchikade, Kotahena, disguised himself as a local merchant, finding refuge with a local fishing community at Mutwal. Brought in legislation banning practice of Hindu, Buddhist, Islam and Catholic faiths. Catholic priests, John de Vaz, Jacob, Gonsalves visited Kandyan Kings to seek safety. The British invaded chasing the Dutch in 1796 and ruled the entire island from 1815.

    Objectives of Missionaries

    The Christian missionaries backed by Dutch thought that God has commanded them to spread Christianity all over the world. Protestant missionary considered it as a hallowed duty to convert believers of other faiths into Christianity. European colonial rulers also apprehended that a faithful citizenry sharing one religion, would be comparatively trouble-free to pacify and administer.

    “They also brought a whole culture—the entire gamut of attitudes and feelings; the discipline of modern societies, and a set of social, political and economic ideas which were new to the East. These missionaries also became a force for the disorganisation of the ancient culture within which they chose to work, but they also opened the eyes of the people of such societies, like that of Sri Lanka, India. The earliest steps in such progress was taken in Sri Lanka in the period before 1832. Buddhist and Hindu society in Sri Lanka, at the time when British rule commenced and retained from antiquity some of their essential features. Buddha taught that the concepts of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ could exist in reality only in terms of spiritual growth. The idea that superiority could come out of the mere fact of birth in a family of recognized social status was totally rejected.” ---pge 1: ‘The social impact of missionary activities in Sri Lanka in the early 19th century’ — Dr. K. L.V. Alagiyawanna

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