Tribute to mark 45th anniversary of Sacerdotal Ordination | Sunday Observer

Tribute to mark 45th anniversary of Sacerdotal Ordination

5 July, 2020
His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith given a hand by Ven. Dr. Ittapana Dharmalankara Thera, the Mahanayake of Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sanga Sabha of Siyam Maha Nikaya
His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith given a hand by Ven. Dr. Ittapana Dharmalankara Thera, the Mahanayake of Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sanga Sabha of Siyam Maha Nikaya

The history of salvation is dotted with examples when God Almighty raises up prophets and shepherds to journey with His people through challenging and deliberating moments of history. Whether it be Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Joseph or Jeremiah, or Peter or Paul, they all had one thing in common. They were convinced that their mission was related to a deeply spiritual calling. This is found in the Old Testament written around the sixth century BC.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith holds the highest rank in Sri Lanka in the Roman Catholic Church for a priest. In the hierarchy of the Church immediately below the Pope are the Cardinals. The prime duty of a Cardinal is to elect a new Pope frpm among them. His Eminence is part of the ‘College of Cardinals’ whose very crimson colour vestments symbolise the commitment to serving the Gospel “to the spilling of blood”, as recited in the Latin formula. Known as a tireless servant of truth, justice and freedom, he has won love, respect and admiration of Catholics and religious leaders all over the world.

In ecclesiastical heraldry, Cardinals surmount their ‘Coat of Arms’ with a scarlet galero with thirty tassels.The Chief Shepherd of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Colombo, His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith is only the second Sri Lankan to be made a Cardinal. The Servant of the Lord, His Eminence Thomas Benjamin Cardinal Cooray, OMI (December 28, 1901 – October 29, 1988) of revered memory who served as the Archbishop of Colombo from 1947 to 1976 was the first Sri Lankan Cardinal.

The portrait of His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith in the Ministry of the God Almighty is one immensely blessed and decorated with many firsts unparalleled in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.. He has had a fast rise in the church hierarchy. He was ordained a Priest at 27 years by Pope Paul VI in Rome, appointed a Bishop at 43 years by Pope John Paul II, elevated an Archbishop at 53 by Pope John Paul II and made a Cardinal at 62 years by Pope Benedict XVI.

Vow to Our Lady of Lanka

His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith celebrating Easter and Sunday Holy Masses during the lockdown repeatedly requested Sri Lankans of all faiths to understand the gravity of the situation and urged the faithful to journey towards reaching the fullness of life through obedience to the Lord. He explained how that human manipulations to the extent of dreaming a world without a God and crimes committed involving humanity challenging sacred marriage, family life, and murder of infants by legalising abortion and extensive damage to nature have led us towards a disastrous situation.

He pledged an extraordinary vow to Our Lady of Lanka urging her to protect humanity from the deadly coronavirus with profound faith and hope at the National Basilica in Tewatte on April 3, 2020. The reading chosen was the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, of the transformation of water into wine at Cana. In the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine. The prayerful encounter highlighted the Virgin Mary’s words, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3-5) reminding us that she continues to intercede on behalf of humanity.

Aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre

His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith took the leadership in averting a communal blood bath following the immediate aftermath of the Easter Sunday 2019 massacre. The iconic role played by him in quelling a potentially volatile situation was exemplary. It was his wisdom, foresight, love for humanity and spiritual guidance that paved the way for peace and harmony to prevail in those trying and difficult circumstances. All Sri Lankans admired him for the exemplary pastoral role played in the true spirit of a noble and inspiring religious vocation. His admirable leadership in treading those treacherous times was commended by the whole world.

He has always shown his love for the poor, enthusiasm to spread the good News of Christ, loyally to the Magisterium of the Church and a prudent approach to humanitarian problems – be it pastoral, social or political. He has always promoted inter-faith dialogue in Sri Lanka as he believes that it can eliminate potential causes of tensions and disagreements between the religious and ethnic groups that make up the country. He won the hearts and minds of all Sri Lankans for his efforts towards peace and reconciliation in the North and East throughout the humanitarian operations. The Church has relied on him to solve many vexing problems and he has always responded positively.

Visit of Pope Francis and Canonisation of St. Joseph Vaz

His Eminence, Cardinal Ranjith played a pivotal role in the arduous process of the canonisation of the Blessed Joseph Vaz for long years in numerous capacities. He meticulously executed the entire program of the visit of the Holy Father to the admiration of all Sri Lankans. Blessed Joseph Vaz (April 21, 1651 –January 16, 1711) was a courageous soldier of the Christ, a dedicated missionary and a humble Servant of God who is venerated as the ‘Apostle of Sri Lanka’.

After canonising Sri Lanka’s first saint at Galle Face Green on January 14, 2015, the Pope accompanied Cardinal Ranjith travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu and then changed schedule and visited a Agrashravaka Buddhist Temple in Colombo to pay respects and to witness a rare ritual - chanting and praying while opening the stupa or the casket containing relics.

Warm and sincere prelate

His Eminence Cardinal Ranjith is a warm and sincere friend gifted with enough charisma to enthuse others. He is a lucid and popular teacher of Holy Scripture; a brilliant though self-effacing intellectual; a preacher par excellence; a benefactor of countless projects; a sparkling companion. Above all, a missionary fired with apostolic zeal to proclaim Christ as the Redeemer of the World.

He has mastered ten languages - Italian, German, French, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Spanish, English, Sinhala and Tamil. His ability to converse and understand the problems of the Catholic Church spread throughout the world and his commitment and dedication in the execution of the enormous responsibilities of the Universal Church has made him one of the most influential voices in the world.

I have had the honour of associating with him closely throughout the past 30 years. I treasure his humbleness very much and wish to quote from a letter received in response to a congratulatory message, “Please ask God not so much to shower me with crowns as much as to make me his own in sheer faithfulness to what he expects from me.

Earthly crowns pass away but Heavenly ones are those that His servants should always cherish.”

His admirers say his “bright face is always lit up with a smile.” Many Sri Lankans who have worked with him say he “never says no” to any request, even in extreme difficult situations. They describe him as having a way with words and a manner of conveying them laced with affection that puts people at ease.

He once said that, “Love for the liturgy and the poor have been the compass of his life as a Priest.”

Beckoned by God

Born on November 15, 1947 as the eldest and only son of P. Don William and H. Mary Winifreeda and baptised as Patabandige Don Albert Malcolm Ranjith in Polgahawela, he had his early education at De La Salle College, Mutwal.

He was beckoned by God to serve in his vineyard from a young age.

He entered St. Aloysius’ Seminary in Borella in 1965. In the Students’ Register of the Seminary, Rev. Fr. Frank Marcus Fernando, the then Rector had made an entry that he joined the Seminary on March 15, 1965. In the following year, Rev. Fr. Nicholas Marcus Fernando, Rector, had made an entry that he entered the National Seminary in Ampitiya on June 4, 1966. He had been admitted to the National Seminary by Cardinal Cooray.

He pursued his studies in philosophy at the National Seminary from 1966 to 1970. According to Formation rules which existed at that time, he went on Regency from the Major Seminary and served Caritas Sri Lanka - SEDEC in the Diocese of Ratnapura building homes for the needy. He was thereafter sent to Rome by Cardinal Cooray for studies in theology and graduated from the Pontifical Urbanian University with a Baccalaureate.

Priesthood and missionary odyssey

On June 29, 1975, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, he was ordained to the priesthood by Pope Paul VI at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. He then pursued postgraduate studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome from where he obtained a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture in 1978. He also attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he undertook scriptural research and obtained a Special Certificate in Biblical Studies.

On his return from Rome, he was appointed Assistant Parish Priest of Pamunugama in 1978 and his dynamism and enthusiasm had its impact on the villages of Kepungoda and Dungalapitiya. He literally shook that sleepy, backward fishing village with its sandy beaches and was instrumental in supplying electricity, building houses and modernising the area.

His missionary odyssey then took him through the parishes of Payagala and Kalutara where he blazed a trail of total commitment to uplift the poverty-stricken fisher folk and built a vibrant Christian community. The Archdiocesan Centre for Poor Relief, Seth Sarana is his brainchild and remains a lasting monument to his commitment to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. In 1983, Fr. Malcolm was named the National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies and under his enthusiastic direction, a new and urgent sense of mission was created among the clergy and the people. He revived the Society of the Holy Childhood to inspire a spirit of missionary zeal in children.

As Diocesan Coordinator for Human Development, he introduced bold initiatives in areas such as housing, fisheries and various self-employment projects. Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo

On June 17, 1991 he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo and Titular Bishop of Cabarsussi. He received his Episcopal consecration on August 31, 1991 from the late Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando.

He served as the Vicar General in charge of Parochial Apostolate and Lay Apostolate from 1991 to 1995. His peers elected him the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka as well. The visit of the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II to Sri Lanka on January 20, 1995 was an unforgettable event in the annals of the Church history of Sri Lanka and it was combined with the Beatification of Blessed Joseph Vaz, the Apostle of Sri Lanka.

It was at this moment that the talents, capabilities and the organising skills of young Bishop Malcolm came out to the fore.

If the event left an indelible mark, it was due to his undaunted pursuance of the responsibility placed fairly and squarely on his shoulders as the Chairman of the Organising Committee for the visit of the Pope and Beatification.

Bishop of Ratnapura

He was also the first shepherd to be appointed by the Holy See to the newly carved Diocese of Ratnapura. He was appointed as the Bishop of Ratnapura on November 2, 1995. His appointment was hailed as a welcome spark to kindle the fire of missionary zeal in the hearts of the clergy and laity in his diocese. It was evident from the unprecedented numbers of well-wishers of all religions that thronged to welcome him.

The unflagging zeal and leadership displayed by him in guiding the flock of Ratnapura perhaps paved him the way to the Holy See. He was instrumental in constructing a Minor Seminary at Kegalle, a new Bishop’s House at Madola, a Pastoral Centre at Avissawella and giving a facelift to many churches in the diocese during that short span of time. First Sri Lankan Adjunct Secretary

He became the first Sri Lankan Bishop to be appointed to the Holy See. On October 1, 2001, he was made the Adjunct Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of People’s along with the appointment as the President of the Pontifical Mission Societies by Pope John Paul II.

It is the Holy Father’s ministry for the coordination of the missionary efforts of the Church and involves overview and growth of the local Churches in the missionary countries.

This Ministry coordinates over 1,100 Archdioceses, Dioceses, Apostolic Vicarates and Apostolic Prefectures as well as Sui Juris Missions. The Adjunct Secretary is the World President as well as the International President of the Pontifical Mission Societies, which are the instruments of the Pope for enhancing support through prayer and contributions for the mission of the Church.

Papal Ambassador

He is the first Sri Lankan to be appointed as a Papal Nuncio. He served in Jakarta as the Holy Father’s Apostolic Ambassador to Indonesia and East Timor from April 29, 2004 until his return to Rome. The Catholic Church in Indonesia consists of 17,000 islands and spreads to 37 Dioceses and has one of the biggest Catholic populations among the counties in Asia. Upon his appointment as the Papal Nuncio, he was also raised to the rank of Titular Archbishop of Umbriatico. During his tenure he succeeded in enhancing mutual relations between the Vatican State and Indonesia to greater heights. He won the admiration of the church hierarchy for the pivotal role he played in assisting the establishment of cordial relations between the local churches and the Government.

Secretary of Congregation for Divine Worship

On December 10, 2005 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI appointed then Archbishop Ranjith as the Secretary of the Holy Father’s powerful Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is the first and only Sri Lankan to be bestowed with such a unique honour of directly assisting the Holy Father as the Secretary of a Congregation in the Vatican City.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is one of the key Congregations of the Roman Curia and attends to everything pertaining to the Apostolic See concerning the regulation and promotion of the sacred liturgy, primarily of the sacraments, without prejudice to the competence of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith.

Archbishop of Colombo

On June 16, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Colombo. In a letter to then Archbishop Malcolm, Pope Benedict said, “I wish to express my sincere thanks for the fidelity, the commitment and competence with which you exercised that office” and also said that “we have reason to be encouraged by the good you will be able to perform among the people’s of your land.” Cardinal Malcolm was among the 34 Metropolitan Archbishops across the world and the first Sri Lankan to receive his pallium from Pope Benedict on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29, 2009. He was greeted with warmth and solemnity upon his arrival in Sri Lanka on July 31, 2009 and took formal canonical possession of the Metropolitan See of Colombo with a Eucharistic Celebration on August 5, 2009.

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” are the words that sprang from the heart of Mary, our Heavenly Mother, at a time when she experienced her special election by God for a unique mission. It is with these same words giving expression to the immense sense of gratitude to God that ArchbishopRanjith assumed the pivotal role of the Chief Shepherd of Colombo.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI elevated His Eminence Ranjith to the dignity of a Cardinal at a solemn ceremony held in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on November 20, 2010 which is officially referred to as ‘Consistory for the Creation of Cardinals’, the Holy Father bestowed on the Archbishop the biretta, that is the Cardinal’s red hat as well as his “title” or titular Church which is found in Rome along with the Cardinal’s ring.

The author has written an array of articles on His Eminence; recipient of Presidential and National Accolades for Academic pursuits; enthralled in serving the humanity; his byline appears regularly since 1988