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Bishop Issues Wide-Ranging Letter on Matters of Church & State
by the Right Rev. Duleep de Chickera
CEYLON 050924-1
September 24, 2005

Letter from the Bishop of Colombo

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] 

My dear Sisters and Brothers,

I write this on the eve of the Feast of Bartholomew. Bartholomew is one of the lesser known of Jesus’ disciples. He was a person of integrity and courage, qualities which we need so desperately today.

The Hon Lakshman Kadirgamar: The tragic assassination of our Minister of Foreign Affairs is a cruel blow to our nation as we slowly edge our way forward to peace and justice in Sri Lanka. Lakshman Kadirgamar was also a man of integrity and courage. He was born into a Jaffna Christian family who had distinguished themselves in service to church and nation. After a brilliant academic and sports career at Trinity College Kandy and the Oxford University, he served in the United Nations for a while before returning to his motherland to a distinguished legal career Ten years ago, he was persuaded to enter the political arena and was appointed as the country’s Foreign Minister. He brought integrity into politics and proved that there was a place in politics for persons of dignity. In all my dealings with him, I found in him a remarkable human being committed to pluralism, justice, equality and sustainable peace in our country. The nation will greatly miss him now and in the years to come.

The Nation: A major cause of worry in our country is the continuing increase of politically motivated killings. A ceasefire agreement was signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and LTTE over three years ago but political assassinations have continued throughout this period, with their intensity increasing since a faction broke away from the LTTE about a year ago. A Monitoring Mission together with smaller area monitoring committees was set up under the agreement. But their effectiveness has undoubtedly fallen far short of what was expected of them. It is very necessary for civil society and the religions in our country to mobilize public opinion, independent of political sectarianism and across the ethnic divide, to review and make the ceasefire agreement more effective and to generate a momentum to re-start negotiations toward to a fair and just political settlement that would be acceptable to the vast majority of all communities who make up our country. I have no doubt that, if we have the political will, this is possible within the next few years. In the meantime, I have suggested that an independent International Commission be appointed to investigate and submit a report on the political killings and to make recommendations in this regard.

Post-Tsunami Reconstruction: Our work in relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the tsunami goes on. A fuller report appears in the R & R Desk’s newsletter which is published in this issue of the Churchman. I am grateful to all clergy, lay persons, state officials and others who are assisting us in this work and to our partners overseas for their solidarity and material support. We are hoping to have a regional consultation later this year to reflect and share experiences so that the work in each of our countries could be more meaningful and effective.

Ordinations: On the Feast of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in July, we were able to ordain and receive into the Priesthood of our Church the Revds Andrew Devadasan, Stephen Jebachelvam, Pradeep Jesudian, G Manoruban, Samuel Ponniah and Osbourne Thirukumar. We wish all of them God’s blessings as they begin their new ministry and have no doubt they will be faithful leaders and witnesses to the life and death of Jesus Christ within the mission of the Church in our country. I thank all those who assisted in numerous ways for the fine Ordination Service we had. I want in particular to thank Fr Isaac Balakumar for leading the Ordinands’ Retreat and for preaching the sermon at the Service.

Schools: I have continued my dialogue with the staff and students of our church schools. During the past two months, I spent two useful mornings at Ladies’ College and S Thomas’ Preparatory School, Kollupitiya and stayed on to have lunch with my hosts.

Diocesan Council: This years sessions of the Diocesan Council will be held from 17th – 20th October on the theme ‘God, in your grace, transform us all’. Fr Sonny Silva will be our preacher at the Evensong on 17th evening. The Rt Revd Vianney Fernando, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kandy, will be our Chief Guest at the opening ceremony on the 18th morning. We must pray and work hard to make this event as a challenge and a blessing in the life and journey of our Diocese.

Ecumenical Retreats: The first set of ecumenical retreats in Sinhala, Tamil and English for the clergy of the NCC Churches has been held. Our clergy have expressed both positive and negative experiences in having these retreats on an ecumenical basis together with clergy of other churches. There is a need therefore for an evaluation.

Ecumenical Delegation to the Philippines: At the invitation of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, the WCC/CCA sent a small Pastoral Ecumenical Delegation (PED) to the Philippines in the context of allegations of human rights violations and political repression in parts of the country. I was part of the PED visit. A fuller report appears elsewhere in this issue of the Churchman. We met a cross-section of groups and persons and had an exposure to the prevailing crisis. The Churches in the Philippines are called to be witnesses , to face the many challenges and to bring about reconciliation and healing. I trust our visit will take this process forward. Like in Sri Lanka, it is a process that needs patience, perseverance and continuing dialogue.

Visitors: We continue to have a number of visitors from our overseas mission partners who come here both to express their solidarity with us and to offer material support. These have included Kirsten Laursen from Episcopal Relief and Development in USA, the Revd Dennis Robinson, Glen Moore and Florence Creighton from the Diocese of Clogher in Northern Ireland. The Revd Don Sloggett, who had been professionally involved in boat building, is spending some time with us under USPG sponsorship to advise us on our boat building/ repair projects. Frederica Venn is also spending three months under CMS sponsorship assisting with activities at the Karuna Nilayam Kilinochchi.

Overseas Visits: Fr Niroshan de Mel went as our delegate to the WCC’s World Conference on Mission and Evangelism held in Athens, Greece. Fr Sridharan Paul was nominated through the NCC to attend a Capacity-building training workshop for second-line church leaders in Dacca, Bangladesh. Fr N Asokarajah was nominated and has just completed a three -week course for young clergy at the Canterbury Cathedral’s International Study Centre.
I was in Geneva for a week to attend meetings of the World Council of Churches’ Commission of the Churches on Diakonia and Development jointly with two other commissions. We met to discuss, inter alia, a programme for advocacy and development being prepared by some funding agencies with the WCC. The churches in the global south had some concerns and preferred to have the WCC as the pivotal organisation and to have dealings only with the WCC, rather than directly with other agencies.

Pastoral Visits: On my pastoral visits to our churches and institutions, I find the open discussion after the service with the entire congregation or with the staff and residents. A useful opportunity for dialogue on common concerns. Since the last issue of the Churchman, I have visited and held confirmations in the parishes of Vavuniya, Koralawella, Urumpirai, St Thomas’ Mount Lavinia, Gintupitiya, Mampe, Pettah, Mattakuliya and the Cathedral. I am grateful to Bishop Kenneth who stood in for me at the confirmation service at St Luke’s Borella. I have also been on pastoral visits to the Area deaneries of in Hambantota and Tangalle, Bogawantalawa and the Jaffna Peninsula. I have also been to the Girls’ Friendly Society, Moratuwa Sunshine Home, Nawala St Luke’s Home and the Nugegoda St John’s Home.

With Peace and Blessings.

Yours very sincerely,

+ Duleep Colombo