Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
- The religious leader has come down hard on the ageing politicians who he suggests should call it a day
- He attributed this decline, to people moving away from religion
- He has time and time again stressed that departments handling intelligence and national security shouldn’t be politicized
This year’s Easter celebrations were put on hold largely because of the on-going Coronavirus and the state declared curfew. Last year too the Christians in the island nation went through much pain due to the Easter Sunday bombings that ravaged three churches and took the lives of over 250 people.
If the first incident that happened last year exposed the past regime’s inability to strengthen security in the country the present regime has failed in the task of distributing essentials to the needy who have no source of income. A crisis has always highlighted the shortcomings of lawmakers in this island.
Despite the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) allocating Rs 600 million to buy fish stocks and facilitate their distribution there are several areas in the island which have not seen the colour of fish nor any of the items given away as relief packages. The Daily Mirror reported recently that much of these relief goods have ended up in the hands of the affluent.
In situations like these religious leaders tend to get involved in nudging lawmakers to play their roles properly. One such religious leader who has been in the news since the carnage last year is the Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.
The cardinal voiced his disapproval regarding an independent committee not being appointed to probe the series of blasts. The Archbishop of Colombo continuously voiced his concerns regarding members of the Special Parliamentary Select Committee (SPSC) comprising members who were attached to political parties. The Cardinal’s protests and the past regime sticking to its guns regarding the composition of the SPSC show that regimes do try to gain political mileage during a crisis.
It serves the nation well when the lawmakers perform their duties without shortcomings because then the clergy can concentrate on the duties traditionally assigned to them. But unlike other religions the catholic priests have it built into their duties to look in to the welfare of the Christian flock. And in such matters Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has been in the forefront of Christian welfare. We remember how he intervened when the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime jacked up the kerosene oil prices; thus inconveniencing fishermen from the coastal belt. The Bishop spoke to former President Rajapaksa and obtained some relief for this fisher community during that crisis.
Happy with present investigations
The cardinal has maintained that he plays no part in politics. He has said in an interview that he exercises his franchise to vote, but doen’t have affiliations with political parties. Despite their being a regime change that brought back the Rajapaksas to power, it took months before the Cardinal broke the ice after being silent for a while regarding the ongoing investigations into the Easter Sunday blasts. Addressing a media briefing on April 16 (Thursday) at the Bishop’s House, the Cardinal said that he was happy with the investigations into the series of bombings conducted by the new regime. He also said that he wished to see all those who failed in their responsibilities in safeguarding national security being brought to task despite their being prior warnings of such attacks on churches.
The Cardinal preaches forgiveness and in a sermon on Easter Sunday (April 12) this year he had made a statement that Christians had forgiven the assailants who accounted for over 250 lives and injured over 500 devotees. But the religious leader has come down hard on the ageing politicians who he suggests should call it a day. He had told a leading Sunday Sinhalese newspaper last year that it beats him what some lawmakers who are close to 80 years and can hardly walk are doing in parliament.
The Cardinal has blamed the present system which leaves room for corruption and failure. In the interview with the Sinhala weekly he recalls how lawmaker Wijeyananda Dahanayake packed his bags and headed home after losing an election. That’s how lawmakers of yesteryear took responsibility in the face of failure. However the religious leader has stressed that in working for the Christian community he accepted the president elect and the prime minister of the country at any given time. This he says is because he has to get the best out of any regime to serve his community.
"But unlike other religions catholic priests must look in to the welfare of the Christian flock. And in such matters Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has been in the forefront of Christian welfare"
Though the Cardinal affirms that he wishes to stay clear of politics he has been quite vocal about underperforming lawmakers during interviews. He had once said in general that the 225 lawmakers in parliament didn’t have a backbone. He has seen a decline in ethics during the last 70 odd years in politics in the island.
And he attributed this decline, lack of discipline and lawlessness to people moving away from religion. According to him people are happy to understand life through material means. He has stressed time and again that self-discipline is needed and that religion shouldn’t be ‘worn’ as an ornament. The Cardinal has underscored that religion is an integral part of human life.
And despite rejecting claims that he has played political roles on the sidelines of sensitive events the Cardinal has said that he participated in the ‘fast on to death’ by Ven Rathana Thera because the event was organised in support of the Christian community. The Cardinal has said that what prompted him to go to Kandy was the call made by the Christian community of Katuwapitiya. They had requested the Cardinal to be present at the scene of fast because the monk was forcing the government to enhance the probe into the series of church bombings and bring the culprits to book.
No role in politics
Though the Cardinal doesn’t play politics he is quick to air his views when he sees something not fitting. He was always skeptical of the past government’s probe into the church bombings. He wanted members of the select committee replaced by independent individuals who were experienced in fields like law, medicine or defence. He has time and time again stressed that departments handling intelligence and national security shouldn’t be politicized.
In Sri Lanka most matters of importance are associated with Buddhism and the blessings given by the men wearing the saffron robes. Even when the national cricket team makes plans for overseas tours the Buddhist clergy are brough to the Cricket Board and to chant pirith and bless the players. That’s why he has stressed that Buddhism is part of the island’s rich culture and must be protected. He has spoken of Buddhism with great respect where ever its appropriate; and critics point out that he does this to build bridges and reach out to a larger audience. In a Buddhist dominated country this Cardinal has played his cards well and chosen his words wisely to earn a similar place as the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters from an entirely religious perspective.
When the Yahapalana regime failed in virtually all departments and there was complete breakdown of discipline, the Cardinal made a strong statement by saying, “Don’t make the people take the law into their hands”. But he stopped there. He never threw his weight behind any rebellion against the regime like Ven Sobith Thera did. But these words were enough to nudge the past rulers into a rude awakening regarding the true situation of the country.
Hopeless as the situation might have been during the past five years of the Yahapalana regime, the present depressing lockdown situation demands a role from a person in the calibre of the Cardinal. He was able to simmer stirred up emotions in the aftermath of the Easter Blasts. People of the Christian faith expect constant sermons from him that will have the effect of a soothing balm during the pandemic when even the church is out of bounds for devotees. For the record he has even asked for an international probe into finding more details about the pandemic stating, “We know that in several areas of the world researchers of all types for various reasons are engaging in research to destroy human life and nature. Some of these viruses are the products of aimless experiments”.
The Easter blasts and present Covid-19 pandemic not only test lay devotees they also test a man in the calibre of the Cardinal who till now has balanced the Christian community, the privileged Buddhists and the powerful regime like a juggler balancing three objects in a show of skill.