Sri Lanka's dark horse candidate in papal race

11 March 2013 03:41 am - 17     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Sri Lanka's Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith heads the Catholic church in a predominantly Buddhist nation, but a stint in the Vatican has made him a long-shot candidate to be the next pope.

A stern traditionalist, Ranjith was appointed by the outgoing Benedict XVI to oversee the church's liturgical practices in 2005, having previously served as papal nuncio, or ambassador, to Indonesia and East Timor.

With Forbes magazine last month including him among possible papal contenders, the international spotlight has fallen on Sri Lanka's second-ever cardinal.

The charismatic Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines is the name most often mentioned by Vatican observers as a possible first Asian pope.

But at 65, Ranjith is a decade older than the Filipino, a factor which, together with his ideological leanings, could work in his favour.

Ranjith received his early education at boys' schools in Colombo, before undertaking biblical studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He has also studied in Rome and speaks fluent Italian, a must for a pope.

In 2005, he took up the Vatican post as the Secretary General of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, gaining access to the inner workings of the Holy See.

Soon after becoming the Archbishop of Colombo in 2009, Ranjith banned lay preachers and banished cultural practices borrowed from other religions from Sri Lanka's Roman Catholic church -- moves which critics called backward-looking.

"You have to look at his actions in the right context," Benedict Joseph, his spokesman told AFP.

"Things were getting out of hand and sometimes even the Good Friday service clashed with sermons of laymen.That is why he issued the guidelines in 2009 to ensure that Catholic religious traditions were maintained without any dilution."

He was named as a cardinal in 2010, only the second in a country with a large Buddhist majority and where Christians account for fewer than 1.5 million out of a population of 20 million.

But he soon emerged as a strong personality among Sri Lanka's religious leaders.

He led an inter-faith group to campaign for the restoration of European Union trade concessions which had been withdrawn because of Sri Lanka's failure to improve its human rights record.

However, the clerics failed to convince the EU which insisted on Colombo delivering on promises to clean up its act after decades of ethnic bloodshed which claimed up to 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

Despite his closeness to Sri Lanka's political establishment, he announced a surprise boycott of all state functions in 2011 to protest against a police raid of an orphanage run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity nuns.

The state dropped the case and the authorities issued an apology as Ranjith won the admiration of many for standing up for the charity which had been wrongfully accused of selling babies born to unwed mothers.

He also used his influence to attempt ethnic reconciliation in the country. A minority of Sinhalese and ethnic Tamils are Catholics, giving the church access to both communities in the ethnically divided nation.

Being of the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, he worked with minority Tamil bishops to arrange brief ceasefires at the height of fighting between troops and Tamil rebels -- attracting criticism in some quarters.

Ranjith told an interviewer after the end of the war in 2009 that the church was misunderstood over its role in the conflict, with Sinhalese thinking the church sided with the Tamils while Tamils thought it was soft on the government.

"Our role has attracted criticism from extremists who have begun to consider us almost as traitors," Ranjith had said in an interview conducted by a Vatican priest.

"But people of goodwill have appreciated and still appreciate our work. And that is the most important thing." (AFP)
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  Comments - 17

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  • Arjuna Monday, 11 March 2013 07:25 AM

    As a Sri Lankan; a Buddhist I wish him all the success and fortune to received the most holiest status of church.

    Also I know there will be a great probability to obtain which to our cardinal Malcolm.

    Yohan Perera Monday, 11 March 2013 07:34 AM

    I am a protestant and not a Roman Catholic. But I wish you all the best your holiness.

    Patriotic Tuesday, 12 March 2013 12:00 AM

    1) The pope not need to be always kind looking he needs to he straight forward to take decision in the name of the Catholic Church so he is the best candidate. 2) It will be a blessing to MR because he is a son of mother lanka So he is the best Candidate 3) I doubt whether the the white skinned Europeans will support Asian person specially with a Buddhist background. but your holiness we are honoured to have you as the top favourites. god bless you via DM Android App

    Ishan Monday, 11 March 2013 09:41 PM

    In fact, very dark

    chandra Monday, 11 March 2013 08:00 AM

    During his school days at De La Salle College Mutwal he was nick named "Pope". I am sure one day he will be the Pope. As an Old boy of the college I wish he will be the next successor to St Peter. May God bless you!
    Chandra

    Hashimy Monday, 11 March 2013 05:20 AM

    wish you all the success to bring fame to our mother land by become the pope.

    sajitha Monday, 11 March 2013 12:35 PM

    It may be a dream but at least he is in running.. not like any candidate from LTTE?

    Nodrog Tuesday, 12 March 2013 12:43 AM

    Even being considered is an honour....and thats not a dream.

    Kondebandapucheena Monday, 11 March 2013 12:30 PM

    as a Buddhist I wish Cardinal Ranjith all the best.

    Anonymous Monday, 11 March 2013 10:38 AM

    It is only a pipe dream for Amaranth or to his supporters I don't think there is a much chance for him.

    Fusion Monday, 11 March 2013 06:24 AM

    Wish you success your Holiness!

    Maha Rajanani Monday, 11 March 2013 12:51 PM

    All the very best for our Cardinal.

    Monkey Joe Monday, 11 March 2013 08:34 AM

    ANOTHER SRI LANKAN DREAM .

    Alter Boy Monday, 11 March 2013 06:40 AM

    Eagerly awaiting your arrival.

    lk Monday, 11 March 2013 06:43 AM

    Though he is not a front runner and highly unlikely that he will be elected, it is a great honour to be considered for the holy father post.

    lalitha Monday, 11 March 2013 01:27 PM

    ifhe becomes the next pope, that will be the end of MR

    IVJ Monday, 11 March 2013 01:44 PM

    Looking at his facial expressions in this photo, can you see kindness and approachable look on his face. Good kuck anyway!!


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