JO's manna from heaven | Daily News

JO's manna from heaven

There is much brouhaha these days over a statement made by the Head of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and the response to it by Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Delivering a homily at the morning service at St. Mathew's Church in Ekala, Ja-Ela, His Eminence observed that human rights had today become the religion of the West and that Sri Lankans could well do without the Western concept of human rights, which is anyway an integral part of teachings of all the main religions practised in this country.

Minister Samaraweera taking exception to the Cardinal's remark went on to state that Human Rights were necessitated today due to the incidents of the past, such as the Inquisition, where marauding hoards burnt non-believers at the stake. He also made the claim that His Eminence was ignoring these facts in trying to be a populist.

It is unfortunate though that he chose to draw a parallel from the Inquisition which occurred during medieval times that is hardly relevant to this day and age, when there are many other examples he could have cited from more enlightened times to buttress his argument in favour of upholding human rights.

Minister Samaraweera is no stranger to controversy and is known to call a spade a spade. On many an occasion in recent times he had rubbed on the wrong side of the Buddhist clergy too, particularly over his suggestion to keep liquor shops open on Poya days and permit females to be employed at bars and restaurants.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith is also not entirely free of controversy, coming into conflict with his own Church, when he upheld the suggestion to introduce the death penalty though he subsequently clarified his position on the matter.

The Joint Opposition has however lost no time in cashing in on the spat, with His Eminence having as his unlikely allies Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila - two dyed in the wool Sinhala Buddhist nationalists - to defend his stance. The duo, more than the Catholic MPs in the JO fold, has got behind the Cardinal to raise their voice against the insults and indignities heaped on the Roman Catholic community and the alleged disrespect shown to the Head of the country's Roman Catholic Church by a Sinhala Buddhist Minister.

The duo has added their voice to the call by certain JO MPs in the coastal Catholic Belt in calling for a “Black Sunday” (Kalu Irida), unless the minister tenders an unqualified apology to His Eminence, with Weerawansa going one better and leading a demonstration of members of his Jathika Nidahas Peramuna against the harm done to a prominent dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church.

We are now only left with the likes of Bodu Bala Sena of Ven. Gnanasara Thera fame, the Ravana Balaya and outfits like the “Sinha Le” to come out expressing solidarity with His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, which, from the looks of things, is a growing possibility.

And who are the individuals from among the JO's Catholic brigade who had taken the forefront in the agitation to protect the Catholic religion from being desecrated and be the local version of the Knights’ Templar? There is the enfant terrible Arundhika Fernando, who, the other day, chaired a press conference to highlight the insult hurled at the Cardinal and the need for ‘Catholic Action’ to teach the Government a ‘lesson'. The other individual taking the lead to cleanse the local Catholic Church from the stigma is a certain Nimal Lanza.

Sri Lankans who have a television set at home would not fail to recall how, when this individual was suspected of having a large haul of narcotics inside his residence, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa homed in on the scene in a helicopter donned in track-suit and accompanied by a group of supporters of the former, marched forth to rescue his besieged loyalist from the clutches of the STF. That was the end of the STF probe.

It is certain that His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith would be the last person to avail himself of any assistance emanating from such quarters, nor would he give his imprimatur for any protest or agitation during Sunday Services in the churches throughout the country. We say this because thus far, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka had not engaged in any form of rebellious conduct, nor has it been associated with violent demonstrations and agitations against the State. Even when there were certain protests during the takeover of Church-run schools in the 1960s, it never took on a violent form and no priest or Rev. Brother was arrested.

The game plan is clear. The JO is desperate to cultivate the Roman Catholic vote which had eluded Mahinda Rajapaksa at the last Presidential Election and is eying this bloc at least at the next hustings in 2020. The present dispute had come like manna from heaven to the Rajapaksas and the JO is bound to keep the topic on the boil for as long as possible.


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