His Eminence Cardinal
Malcolm Ranjith on Monday cleared all doubts as to where the
Catholic Church stands on issues such as patriotism and national
integrity. He unequivocally spelt out the stance of the church,
debunking misconceptions that had bedeviled the local Catholic
Church for long years, hopefully leading to a better
understanding of the position of the Church among the majority
The Catholic Church has long being viewed with suspicion
among many Buddhists as being anti-national and working against
the national interest. These suspicions were not without basis.
There was some justification for this attitude mostly due to its
pro-western outlook. Its laid back attitude on issues of
national importance and not being more vocal in its opposition
to Western influence fuelled this suspicion further. This
despite the fact that there were many eminent Catholic priests
such as Fr Peter Pillai who pioneered many social reforms and
pro labour legislation that benefitted the masses.
For instance the Church vehemently opposed the take over of
denominational schools which were run by foreign missionaries
and openly demonstrated against the move. Famous priests of the
calibre of Fr Merceline Jayakody suffered victimisation due to
his move to indegenize the local church and introduce local
cultural features in the Holy mass which took on a Western
All this sowed the seeds of suspicion about the motives of
the Catholic Church among prominent Buddhist citizens which
extended to the Catholic community in general. True, Catholics
actively participated in national events alongside their Sinhala
Buddhist brethren. They also rejoiced with the majority
community at national celebrations and events of national
significance. The Catholics in the coastal areas were an
integral part of the nation wide celebrations over the war
victory. The national flag is always a prominent feature in all
church feasts and other celebrations.
For all that there had always been a lingering doubt and
Catholics were by and large considered insular and not relating
to the national ethos.
The sentiments Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith expressed at the
State felicitation accorded to him therefore must have come as a
revelation to most. He said the Catholics of Sri Lanka condemn
attempts made to bring down the country's image at international
level regardless of the persons involved in such activities. He
also said that Catholics hail the President's policy that
certain foreign elements should not be allowed to sow the seeds
of separatism in the country and took to task certain misguided
priests operating from foreign soil for being involved in futile
attempts to divide the country. These sentiments leave no doubt
as to where the Church's loyalties lay. Importantly they were
strongly expressed sentiments of patriotism that were not
observed prior to this from the local Catholic hierarchy.
During the 30 year old war there was also a popular school of
thought among the majority Buddhists that the Church was not
speaking out against the LTTE. In fact some of the clergy and
Bishops in the North were branded as Tiger sympathizers.
Moreover the Catholic Church was widely seen to be pandering to
Western concepts and alienated from the national ethos.
Regrettably some of the leading lights in the Church failed
to get their message across with conviction. As a result the
Catholic community was looked upon as 'not belonging'. This
despite Catholics voting overwhelmingly at elections to return
the SLFP which is considered a party representing the indigenous
community and largely anti-west.
The sentiments expressed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith
therefore it is hoped would remove all misconceptions and unite
Catholics and Buddhists in brotherhood to live as one despite
their religious and cultural differences enriching the
multi-ethnic fabric of this country.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was unequivocal about Western
values. His Eminence noted that Western countries suffer from
ethical and spiritual deterioration though they have achieved
economic progress. Through this he has divested the church from
any affinity with Western concepts and reached out to the
majority community in emphasizing the Church's position.
It is refreshing indeed to note that the Catholic Church has
spoken loud and clear in underlining its patriotic credentials
in a departure from the past when such sentiments, if they were
expressed at all were muted or stilted leading to
misunderstanding and suspicion. In this respect it could be said
that His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has set the record
straight. It could also be said that through his sentiments he
has redefined the relations between the Catholics and the
majority Buddhist community and opened a new chapter in
inter-religious harmony that would form a binding force that
augers well for the country's future progress.