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Bishop Calls for Recognition of 2009-2010 as the Year of National Healing and Reconciliation
From the Office of the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
CEYLON 091016-1
October 16, 2009

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] At the Annual Sessions of the Diocese of Colombo of the (Anglican) Church of Ceylon which began on Friday 16th October 2009, the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, the Bishop of Colombo, delivering his address to the clergy and people of his diocese, called for the displaced persons in camps to be treated with dignity and trust. "We must never forget", he said, "that they are also Sri Lankans who crossed over at the invitation of their Government to be liberated." He also urged that his church should work with all faith leaders to recognise the year 2009-2010 as the Year of National Healing and Reconciliation when all would engage in rigorous self-scrutiny and a rediscovery of inclusive behaviour; and that this process would lead to a spirituality of compassion, courage and humility in the journey of reconciliation. The Rt Revd Dr Thomas Savundranayagam, Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna, was the Chief Guest at the Sessions. Below are key extracts from Bishop Duleep de Chickera’s address:

A Family Separated

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26.)

A part of our diocesan family is not represented at this Council. This is because most members of our congregations of the Vanni (over one hundred and twenty five families) are presently in camps for displaced Sri Lankans. Our efforts to arrange for some lay representation for these congregations were not successful. It is now up to us all to bear this in mind in our proceedings. Our thinking and decisions should carry the pain and responsibility of separation. I have also asked our chaplains and those who lead our Bible studies and worship to connect those who gather at Council and those who are scattered in camps, through our reflections and prayers.

Displaced Sri Lankans

The aftermath of the war created an unprecedented crisis of displacement affecting nearly 280,000 Sri Lankans. At the time of writing these persons are located in camps in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee Districts. Since these tragic happenings, we have repeatedly expressed our views on the war, the future of those displaced and post-war reconciliation. The Standing Committee Report and the Report of the Board of Social Responsibility (BSR) further elaborate on our stance and ministry in these areas.

There is however, an aspect of this tragic story that needs to be highlighted. We must never forget that those who crossed over are Sri Lankans; and that they crossed over at the invitation of their Government to be liberated. Liberation for the displaced requires that they be treated with dignity and trust, that their return to their original homes and livelihoods be expedited and that they thereafter receive equal opportunities for education, development and growth. Liberation also requires that they should not be hindered or harmed by any ideology or force that might want to exploit or suppress them all over again.

Reconciliation and Healing of the Nation

The military defeat of the LTTE cannot be expected to resolve our national crisis. To the contrary it has drawn much wider attention to the need for National healing and reconciliation which has eluded us for decades. As never before we are now called to strive after that way of life, which will lead us away from deceit and violence, hold us together and nourish us as equals.

While we must be thankful that we are still a very resilient, resourceful and hospitable people, certain obstructions to healing need to be acknowledged if we are to secure abundant life for all.

Past and Current Realities

While colonisation divided us and deprived us of freedom, our post-independence history further aggravated these trends. Unimaginable violence has devalued human life and dignity. Layer upon layer of intimidation and discrimination have created deep social suspicion and antagonism. Both fear and prejudice have created an unprecedented disregard in our society for the needs and rights of our neighbour. Repeated acts of extrajudicial atrocities coupled with the absence of a fair judicial process of investigation, protection and prevention have led to an erosion of law and order and a culture of impunity. Impatience with dissent and critique has restricted the media and public opinion. In fact the crisis of police violence, serious as it is, reflects the triumph of these trends in our society much more than it does the lack of professionalism in the police force.

This destructive shift in social reality did not simply happen. It is the culmination of several short sighted socio-political initiatives. The intensification of divisive ethnic party politics has systematically undermined national integration. The absence of sustainable economic, educational, agricultural and foreign policies have further polarised us internally and isolated us internationally. Clearly discriminatory legislation such as the Sinhala only Act of the fifties and the earlier disenfranchisement of large numbers amongst the plantation community, marginalised the minorities. The Tamil militant struggle for self government that emerged out of this discrimination grew into a movement which oppressed its own and systematically eliminated National leaders of all Communities. The subsequent security drive against the LTTE caused untold humiliation and hardship for the Tamil community. A serious and systematic erosion of higher values on all sides, drove us to the “war only” option; which in turn brought about an immense loss of life, uprooted whole communities, polarised the nation and left us with haunting memories of communal grievance, impatience and despair.

A Process

If reconciliation and healing are to come to our beloved nation in these circumstances we are all required to take a right-about turn and engage in two initiatives. These are the ability to look within our selves and our communities and deal with the mistakes of the past; and the cultivation of a behaviour that respects and welcomes the presence of the other. These unwritten democratic values of self scrutiny and inclusive behaviour will require time, personal integrity and an abundance of generosity. But we don’t have to go far to find them. The respective spiritualities of our religions provide these values to those of us who want to live at peace with each other.

It is from here that we will together recognise how to address past grievance and future integration. And it will be only then that the journey towards getting to that place, where each will be received with dignity, none will violate another and all will be provided space for growth and fulfilment, will be discerned. From here our collective conscience will be required to invite and encourage the other repeatedly, till the call falls on good ground and bears fruit. This is the prophetic tradition of the Church without which there can be no reconciliation and healing in Christ.

A Year of National Healing and Reconciliation

Since all religions have a role to play in this national agenda, I request the diocese to please recognise the year 2009-2010 as a year of “National Reconciliation and Healing.” For this to happen most effectively, we will be called to work even more closely with our sister churches and faiths. Our own role in this collective task will be futile if we ourselves do not engage in rigorous self scrutiny and a rediscovery of inclusive behaviour. It must be our prayer that out of this process Christ will endow us with a spirituality of compassion, courage and humility for the journey.

I invite all clergy and congregations, schools and other church institutions to spread this message and incorporate this thrust into our respective mandates and scope of influence. I request Standing Committee, Council of Synod and the Peace and Inter Faith Desks in particular to highlight this proposal and to give it priority in the coming year.

I urge all our commissions and boards to give this theme priority in our work during the coming year. I also intend carrying this proposal to the civil society, ecumenical and inter-faith groups with whom we work.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
16 October 2009