A philosopher king:
According to Plato, a ‘philosopher king’ is a ruler who possesses both a love of wisdom, as well as intelligence, reliability, and a willingness to live a simple life. Such are the rulers of his utopian city Kallipolis. For such a community to ever come into being, “philosophers [must] become kings…or those now called kings [must]…genuinely and adequately philosophise” (Plato The Republic, 5.473d).
Rev. Fr. Clarence Elmo Dias
For Plato, the wisdom lovers are the best rulers, as portrayed in the Ship of State metaphor: a “true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship” (The Republic, 6.488d).
Archytas was a Pythagorean philosopher and political leader in the ancient Greek city of Tarentum, in Italy. He was a close friend of Plato, and some scholars assert that he may have been an inspiration for Plato’s concept of a philosopher-king.
Such a philosopher king lived amongst us for almost 68 years as a fine gentleman and 39 years as a Priest of God. Still he lives on in the hearts and the minds of his people in the Pearl of the Orient: Rev. Fr. Clarence Elmo Dias. Hence he deserves our tribute even posthumously.
A celebrant of physical nature’s beauty:
Usually most of us admire a person, place or thing, when that phenomenon begins to decay or die. Only a few of us would uphold him, her or it, when living or still intact. Nevertheless the protagonist of this eulogy did always appreciate anything or anyone at first sight.
Fr. Elmo truly loved the beauty of God’s creation, the flora and fauna, being a Franciscan at heart, like Fr. Claver Perera of revered memory. There was not a thing of beauty which escaped his eyes. His eyes not only feasted on the beauty of nature but in the wink of an eye that thing of beauty would adorn his parish or seminary garden. He not only planted trees himself, but fertilised and watered them as well, all by himself.
This erudite priest did everything ‘in charity’, following the Episcopal motto of his close friend and sagacious Archbishop, His Grace Nicholas Marcus Fernando – namely, ‘veritatem dicere in caritate’ (to speak the truth in charity
Fr. Elmo, the voracious reader and versatile personality, knew the Theology of Genesis so well. In the second narrative of creation (Genesis 2,4b-25), we see how God fashions man (‘adam’ in Hebrew) from the earth or ground (‘adamah’ in Hebrew). Man, whom thus emerges from the earth, is also intended to serve the earth.
Fr. Elmo celebrated this Genesis Theology in life by working with tools on the soil. He was not hesitant, therefore, to shed sweat in Archbishop’s House, parish and seminary gardens.
Who was the inspiration of Fr Elmo’s eco-friendly lifestyle? Primarily it should be God who is presented anthropomorphically in Genesis. God works with the matter of the earth like a potter, when He makes man. Then He plants a paradisiacal garden like a planter. This God who works on the earth was indeed Fr Elmo’s inspiration.
Out of the human examples, the late Rev Fr Anselm de Croos, water diviner and botanist, could be ranked the first. If someone proposes the name of His Grace Nicholas Marcus Fernando, the seventh saintly Archbishop of Colombo, as another source of inspiration, the present writer does not deny it, for these three finest clergymen exemplified a fine bond of friendship to the end.
How many times did I think that this nature lover would be the ideal peritus to Pope Francis for composing Laudato si’? Fr. Elmo not only read, wrote and talked about nature, but he also ‘worked’ in nature planting, watering and fertilising trees. He was of course for some years in the Eternal City. But that was for his ecclesiastical studies and on sabbatical leave. Now he, having found his celestial shelter in the City of God, must eternally be busy in the Garden of God, being an ideal partner to the original Francis, the Patron of nature.
Not only at my entry but also at my exit, Fr. Elmo was there among many others to speak a few words. “You worked, we all know, according to your conscience and conviction; God knows best, Anton; heroes shed no tears; and, go ahead”, said this senior journalist and friend
Some salient, scattered silhouettes:
As much as Fr. Elmo appreciated the beauty of physical nature, he too admired the nature of human person. Out of all, he supremely celebrated the unparallel beauty of God in the Holy Mass and in the manner of his life.
In life, this philosopher king was very frank and forthright. During the short spell of time I worked as editor of the Messenger, I found him admiring what should be admired, and criticising what must be criticised. He often said that he was overwhelmed by the witty and catchy captions of the Catholic Weekly and at the same time, whenever he found some spelling or grammar error, he did not hesitate to point it over the phone.
But this erudite priest did everything ‘in charity’, following the Episcopal motto of his close friend and sagacious Archbishop, His Grace Nicholas Marcus Fernando – namely, ‘veritatem dicere in caritate’ (to speak the truth in charity).
Fr. Elmo regularly contributed to the Messenger despite the pastoral duties that filled his day, and educated our readership immensely. He was indeed a versatile, proficient and prolific writer, who had followed an online diploma on journalism and news writing at London School of Journalism in 2007 and passed with honours.
Once His Grace Nicholas Marcus Fernando chose me to specialise in sacred Scriptures in Biblicum, Rome in 2001, Fr. Elmo was one of the first to come and congratulate me, saying, “So, Anton, you are a unique person, and my sincere wishes.” This happened in the shade of a mango tree behind the Archbishop’s House, Colombo and I was then on my motorbike. Having looked at the C 90, he commented, “A unique person on a unique bike.” We both guffawed at the witty remark.
During the first-rate rectorship of Very Rev. Fr. Placidus de Silva at Aquinas University College, Colombo I was appointed dean of the nascent Faculty of Theology or ‘English Theologate.’
In this pioneering work, my first pre-occupation was to build up a qualified staff – a tutorial staff, both academically and professionally qualified. When it came to ‘Ecclesiology’, my mind rushed to the best of the best, Fr. Elmo. He so gladly accepted the invitation and started teaching his favourite subject to our students, the happy ones.
No sooner had he been appointed to spearhead the prestigious National Seminary of Our Lady of Lanka, Ampitiya, Kandy as it’s loved-by-all and much-respected Rector by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka than he enrolled me on the visiting staff of the said seat of learning to lecture on some biblical subjects such as Pentateuch, Historical Books and Hebrews.
Whenever I stayed overnight in the Seminary, he made it almost ‘a habit’ to spend some time with me in the cool breeze of the evenings or in the starry nights falling on the Dumbara Valley, sharing as a comrade his joys and sorrows, tears and smiles, and halcyon days and turbulent moments, while holding a position of ‘honor et onus’ (honour and burden). The academic and ecclesial heights he had reached never made inroads into his deep and genuine feelings of the heart. I learnt a lot to my sacerdotal life by such twilight tete-a-tete.
When Fr. Elmo was enthroned on the royal hill of St. Thomas in the ancient Kingdom of Kotte, he did not forget to invite me to all his celebrations, including his birthday anniversary, following the much affectionate tradition of his predecessor, Rev. Fr. Mahes Ganemulla, my vocation director. At that time, I was shepherding the little flock of Jesus by the lake, the Holy Trinity Church, or Thrithva Bhavana Community, at Attidiya, Dehiwela.
Indeed, Fr. Elmo had a heart of mesmeric magnanimity, and we have felt its beatings right from our younger days as Kandy Brothers, especially while he was sculpturing his magnificent masterpiece, St. Jude’s Shrine, Indigolla, Gampaha.
One day Fr. Elmo climbed the stairs of the Colombo Catholic Press, Borella, having ignored his frail health, just to invite me to a special birthday celebration. I rushed to ‘Emmaus’, Tewatte, Ragama at sunset. It was the birthday gathering in 2018 to honour a saint and sage, who lived amongst us, His Grace Nicholas Marcus Fernando.
I attended the first birthday party organised so casually for His Grace after his premature retirement, on the invitation of Rev. Fr. Mahes Ganemulla, my beloved vocation director, far back in 2002. I never thought this would be the last time Fr. Elmo my mentor would organise such a birthday party for His Grace. Nor did I have any premonition that this gathering, organised one more time only so casually, would be the last birthday celebration at Emmaus. I do treasure this unique memory unto my grave and beyond.
Fr. Elmo was one among many to congratulate me, when I started working as editor of the Messenger. He shared his immense happiness and at the same time, he reminded me of the nature of this Catholic weekly, namely its nationality and internationality – that it should cater to the national as well as the international interests.
Not only at my entry but also at my exit, Fr. Elmo was there among many others to speak a few words. “You worked, we all know, according to your conscience and conviction; God knows best, Anton; heroes shed no tears; and, go ahead”, said this senior journalist and friend. Love beyond borders!
The funeral of Fr. Elmo Dias at St. Sebastian’s Church, Moratuwa
The young priest whom I saw in 1980 in my maternal parish, St. Mary Magdalene’s Church, Dungalpitiya, in his first obedience, has regained youthfulness on his saintly soul and so let me wind up this eulogy saying, ‘Rest in the shalom of the Lord, dear Fr. Elmo, till we meet again for twilight tales in eternity’and quoting a heart-throbbing poem, well-written by Devmini Fernando, a student of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya under the title, ‘God welcomes a favoured son again’:
Each star that rises in dusky twilight,
Each flower that opens petals
small and white,
Growing through the day and dangers all,
At day’s end will fade and fall.
When the darkest hours of the day
Listen; hear the voice that calls to you,
Softly and gently calling you to rest;
“Come home child, you have passed
Fragrant funeral flowers fill the altar,
Prayers said with tears and many a falter,
You lie peaceful, free from pain,
As God welcomes a favoured son again.
You finished your work in God’s
Reaped and sowed and collected the yield,
Now you sit among angels in the
Watch o’er our triumphs, troubles