Excerpts from the Address by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo at the 121st Annual Sessions of the Diocesan Council Diocese of Colombo, (Anglican) Church of Ceylon.
My dear sisters and brothers, I greet you in the name of the triune God and warmly welcome you all to our annual Diocesan Council sessions of 2006.
A Separated Family
I am deeply saddened and conscious that our brothers and sisters of Jaffna are unable to be with us due to travel constraints. The Jaffna presence and spirituality has always been an intrinsic and indispensable dynamic in the life and witness of the whole Diocese. The absence of these our brothers and sisters will certainly impoverish our fellowship and common work for Christ.
The people of Jaffna have been experiencing tremendous hardship and danger over the past few months. Shelling, fighting, killings, abductions and disappearances take place daily. Regular curfews restrict movements and the closure of the A9 has cut us off from each other. The shortage of essentials like infant milk powder and sugar and flour is worsening and worrying. There is no regular supply of electricity. Schools function sporadically and uncertainty and fear prevails among all civilians.
It is in these circumstances that the Standing Committee decided to cancel the cultural event and dinner after Evensong on the 5th. Our gathering and agenda must reflect the reality that we meet as a fragmented family.
I have however in consultation with the Standing Committee and Archdeacon of Jaffna taken steps to link the thinking and participation of our separated Jaffna representatives with the business of this Council. An informal gathering of Clergy and Lay Representatives has been held in Jaffna. We were able to get the relevant Diocesan Council material across and a similar agenda has been kept. A record of these informal proceedings will hopefully be shared with you.
The primary challenge faced by this Council is therefore to do business and also reflect the absence of a significant part of the Diocese with a distinct identity. It is for this reason that I suggest that we ought to discuss but not decide on the resolutions before us. Jaffna too can only do likewise, and this way we stand together. There will no doubt be much edification in this process.
There will however be one exception to this. The resolution on Church Union is of a very different nature. It is being considered concurrently by a number of other churches as well. Our inability to decide will stall a collaborative process that has already been stalled for too long. So, I intend putting this resolution to the vote. The thinking of Jaffna on this resolution will be shared at the appropriate time.
It was with thanksgiving to God and great joy that we ordained three Deacons the Revds Malini, Glory and Chandrika as Priests on Holy Cross Day in September. This step was the culmination of a long process of prayer, study, discussion and perseverance. But more needs to be done. The presence of women Priests does not mean that we are an equal Church. The women of our Church are gifted and have as much to offer as men. Consequently our strivings to create a culture in which women will share the work and decisions and leadership of the Church with men must continue. The presence of a few women Priests in our midst will serve as a reminder that our work for Christ in this area is still unfinished.
Our women Priests will be required to meet the same standards in personal discipline and ministry as the men. I have cautioned them however that as pioneers they will be watched and perhaps even scrutinized more closely! My request of us all is that our expectations of them should not be any different from our expectations of male Priests. Please receive them and support them with love, respect and kindness.
The search for appropriate terminology to address our women priests continues. While this is an area in which we ought to be creative and trust the Holy Spirit, theological and cultural relevance should be kept in mind.
I am taking steps to commemorate this historic event with the painting of an appropriate mural in the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral.
I end on the theme that I began with. The meeting of our fragmented family brings home to us the stark reality that we are a fragmented country. We are a family at war.
The Cease-fire Agreement is being blatantly disregarded by both sides to the agreement and a dangerous war culture is gaining momentum as the fighting, killings and bombings, displacements, disappearances and deprivation continue with a vengeance, particularly in the North and East. The Monitoring Mission struggles with its role and responsibility. The international facilitator and Co-Chairs are frustrated by the lack of trust and transparency amongst us Sri Lankans and in our relations with them. And the wider international community observes us with caution. Behind all this is the sinister rise in the cost of living seriously worsened by the staggering war budget. Corruption, mismanagement and political greed also combine to exploit the limited resources available. The poorest of the poor are suffocated and have no escape.
The heart of this complex problem is an ethnic problem. The Tamils and Muslims of this country must be recognized, received and provided for with dignity and as equal citizens with the right to devolved governance and participation in the destiny of the country. But various other contributory factors have now widened and redefined the crisis.
In a word, ours is a crisis of integrity. The alarmingly growing absence of integrity in public and democratic institutions has led to a steady erosion of basic human values. The greed for power and selfish sectarian agendas coupled with an obsession with status and wealth and a disregard for law and order and natural justice is fast plunging the country into chaos. Through all this our political leaders have developed the fine art of blaming each other for the mess and doing absolutely little else to improve the situation.
The Way Forward
The way forward for the country is clearly a negotiated settlement leading to devolution at least in the form of an appropriate federal system. The GoSL must make its offer after adequate consultation with all parties in the south and the LTTE must reciprocate. I urge both the GoSL and the LTTE to co-operate towards this settlement. If this happens The GoSL will have the satisfaction of resolving the Tamil problem in a just way and the LTTE will have the satisfaction that its struggle on behalf of the Tamils has achieved its purpose. It is a serious mistake for the GoSL to imagine that the Tamil problem can be resolved by war and without devolution and for the LTTE to let such opportunities to pass. In all this, Muslim interests must also be consulted and accommodated.
Parallel with this thrust two other immediate steps are necessary. Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims should be enabled to transact business with Government Departments and in Police Stations in the Tamil language. This is a long overdue provision that has so far had lip service. Minorities are an integral part of this Country and must be afforded these basic rights as a serious demonstration that they are not second class citizens.
A culture in which all minorities, specially Tamils, are welcomed and treated with dignity whether at check points or in employment, also needs to be built with care and purpose.
Measures such as these require the deliberate initiative of the State and the co-operation of all. They build trust and National integration, and check the expansion of majoritarianism. They should be based on National policy, introduced through education and awareness and the stance of leaders and require a shift in the attitudes and historical prejudices of people.
The church must continue to play its modest role. Faithfulness to Christ in this crisis requires the church to continue ceaselessly in intercessory prayer, reflection and meditation. We are also required to stand with the powerless and voiceless and speak on their behalf, and to challenge those who abuse power and resort to violence for selfish sectarian gain. We should not attempt this alone. There are other partners who walk the same journey and we must accompany them. We need to articulate and demonstrate new and creative ways of dealing with past grievance and the cycle of revenge. We do this best as Christians when we call the nation away from violence and injustice to repentance, forgiveness, justice, reconciliation and peace; and when we insist that hope for us lies in enemies becoming brothers and sisters.
We also need to offer alternatives to greed for power and materialism. The core of the gospel teaches sharing, detachment from materialism and simplicity of life style in which there is highest fulfilment for all.
Such a journey no doubt entails risks. We will be maligned and misunderstood and caricatured and called all kinds of names. But we need not be intimidated for we are engaged in the work of Christ. While we must be cautious about being simplistic, foolhardy or arrogant, the fear of reaction and the desire for comfort and personal security mostly should not crush our spirit or undermine our faithfulness in Christ and by the oppressed.
The way forward in this arduous task of peace making is to trust in God's wisdom and to collectively deepen our inner lives and commitment in Christ through self-criticism, prayer and obedience.
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo