Church and Nation | Sunday Observer

Church and Nation

Extract from the address of Rt. Revd. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo, to the 132nd Annual Sessions of the Diocese of Colombo, Church of Ceylon.

Each year, both in the report of the Standing Committee of our Diocese and in my own Charge we turn to look at the significant events that have taken place in the country, viewed from the standpoint of the Church. Our scriptural and theological understanding of God’s concern for and involvement in the history of peoples and nations requires us to engage fully with the issue of our country and the world. So, while we remain ‘Sojourners and pilgrims on earth’ yet we are called to pray and work for the realization of God’s justice. His Peace and His Values in the world we live in.

The often repeated call of many political commentators, newspaper editors and indeed concerned citizens of our country over several decades was “Why can’t the two major parties in the country get together even for a limited period to resolve the most pressing issues facing us as a nation?”

Well, as we all know, the impossible happened two years ago. Very soon we will be at the mid-point of the life of this grand coalition government of the two major parties. So, this is a good time for stock taking and for evaluation of its Balance Sheet.

Acts

As I noted in my address to the Council last year, the democratization of our society has been further strengthened through the passing of several legislative acts as well as through administrative decisions of the government.

The opening up of democratic space has led to a situation where groups, various trade unions and even individuals use the freedom available to protest, strike, block public roads and disrupt life, almost on a daily basis to the extent that many are wondering if a return to a more autocratic system of governance is preferable to the chaos that democracy sometimes brings about. The recent signing into law by the President albeit after many delays, of the establishment of “An Office on Missing Persons” is another positive step taken and done in line with the UNHCR Resolution “On Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”. It is imperative that the government creates the necessary structures to give life and form to the Act. Legislation alone does not bring about the desired results as we have seen in the past.

It is however, our ethnic conflict, as old as our existence as an independent nation that continues to defy a satisfactory and fair solution. It is very well known that all our major political parties have to their shame and at great cost to our nation used this question as a political football – blowing hot at election time on power sharing and constitutional reform and then sabotaging attempts at a solution when in opposition. I say this because once again, there are attempts being made to incite people against the constitutional reform process now being undertaken.

Chance

It is therefore, commendable that the government has so far stood firm and tabled the interim report of the Parliamentary Steering Committee to the Constitutional Assembly.

As I mentioned last year, this is probably the best chance we have for arriving at a just and fair resolution of this vexed issue. The Tamil people of the North and East through their elected leaders have expressed their willingness once again to work with the South for an equitable power sharing agreement.

After having gone through so much suffering, destruction and bloodshed as a nation, I would urge all parties not to waste this opportunity. There is no perfect solution possible. Let us all in a spirit of generosity and goodwill, be prepared to compromise to lay the foundation for a just settlement of the ethnic issue for the sake of the nation, the future of our children and our economic development which can create the base for the eradication of abject poverty in the land. There are many other issues that we face, Environmental degradation and increased natural disasters, the expanding incidences of Chronic Kidney Disease, the scourge of Dengue, student unrest and so on.

One of the most disappointing failures of the present government has been its inability to put a stop to rampant corruption, which we see is growing and thriving within this administration. This is a complete betrayal of the trust that millions of voters placed on the promises of the President, the Prime Minister and several others.

Abductions

The extremely slow pace in completing inquiries on the abductions, murders and disappearance of both, of well known persons and many other citizens has also been a disappointment. Each of these ‘victims’ is a parent, a spouse, a son or daughter, a brother or sister. Their families and friends deserve to know what really happened to them and to see justice being done to their memories. All humans deserve to be given the space and opportunity to grieve the loss of their loved ones with dignity and bring closure to their uncertainly. I call on the government and the relevant authorities to act with a sense of urgency and humanely, in all these cases.

Religion can and has been a huge force for good in this world. Blind extremism in religion on the other hand unfortunately has been and continues to be a potent tool for division, hatred, violence, destruction and killing, as we see in many parts of the world, including in our own country. The world is witnessing the terrible plight of the Rohingya Muslim Community in Myanmar, the suffering of the people of Yemen and Syria caught up in brutal wars, the Moros in the Philippines, and the endless suffering and humiliation of the people of Palestine – all of them victims of either actions of States taking advantage of the current international reaction against extremist Islamist terror groups and their ideologies, or of the downplaying of human rights by powerful western nations for their own reasons. The core teachings of all religions contain the teachings of love/maithriya, compassion/karuna as well as of generosity and acceptance of each other. If we, as true followers or disciples of our own religions live up to these values, surely then, we can go a long way in transforming our societies to reflect the values of God’s own City of His Reign.

Attack

In this context, the recent mob attack on a few Rohingya refugees under the protection of the UNHCR in our country must be decried. I have already issued a public statement on this matter on behalf of our Church and I call on all Christians to be firm and remain committed to the cause of speaking and acting boldly against persecution, for the rights of all human beings wherever they are, to whatever ethnic or religious group they belong. They are children, women and men created in the image of God in whom the divine spark lives. 

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