Sr. Angela Fernando was a nun for over 60 years in the Good Shepherd Order. She was truly a Good Shepherd caring for all sheep in the entire herd including those that were lost. A few months prior to her demise in August, she was helping the families living under duress in police quarters with nowhere to go and being shunned by the majority Sinhalese after the Katuwapitiya bomb blast. She was the main author of the recently published book titled ‘150 years of the Good Shepherd Order in Sri Lanka.’
Sr. Angela had a first-class London degree and was multilingual. She could read, write and converse fluently in Sinhala, English Tamil and Italian. She also learnt Arabic and French to support migrant workers and made good use of these two languages when she worked for 11 years in Lebanon. Migrant workers have formed the group ‘Lebanon Sanghaya’ to help and reach out in support of other migrant workers who were grief-stricken and tormented in foreign climes. In Lebanon, she came across Ethiopians, Filipinos, Syrians, Egyptians and many more. There were a number of people physically and mentally ill. Further, prisoners had to be visited. Sr. Angela would say that, “tears of joy flow down her cheeks and she is in adoration and wonder and amazement at the Mystery of the Divine,” when the ever-grateful migrant workers are supported.
Sr. Angela says in her autobiography that her mission was always to be with God’s marginalised children and through her work she has been transformed in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd
Although well-educated, she felt her life should be to help the poor and the downtrodden and avoided posts in the field of education and teaching; this her superiors permitted after much deliberation. In Sri Lanka, she worked mostly in rustic areas such as Navanthurai, Kalkudah Mankerni where her knowledge of Tamil helped her immensely to converse with the fisherfolk. Her calm nature negated aggressive rivalry among different castes of inhabitants in the area. When cyclone hit the Eastern Province, she was able to assist the acutely-hit victims by way of finding shelter and lost items from the more fortunate and charitable organisations. She constantly relates a story of a widow’s mite when a poor lady in Mankerni, garbed in a torn saree, gave her one egg as a gift when she was about to be transferred.
When Sr. Angela worked in Yatiyantota, she would visit the plantation workers who eked out an existence with their meagre wages. Her ministry covered about 45 estates. She was responsible for training, animating and empowering young estate leaders in the field of education. They were all underprivileged and marginalised. She found sponsors to their children and made it easier for them to carry on their daily lives. The programme went on for a couple of years.
Asia News highlighted in 2015 Sr. Angela’s mission among women victims in Mullaitivu after the 30-year civil war. There were several widows and children in dire need, and she worked with women’s groups to promote their overall emancipation. She worked in the Mullaitivu District personally visiting them, finding solutions to their problems, distributing books and schoolbags among children and providing solar-powered lamps to allow children to study for exams as there was no electricity in certain areas. She continued her work for about five years from 2011. The work is continued by the nuns of the Good Shepherd Order.
She was a livewire in Inter-Religious Dialogue. When she passed away, people of all faiths, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, attended the funeral and the eulogy at the cemetery was given by a Buddhist monk.
Sr. Angela says in her autobiography that her mission was always to be with God’s marginalised children and through her work she has been transformed in the likeness of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
In the poem ‘Addressing Death’ she had composed, I quote a few lines:
Nothing to boast have I done. Nothing to take pride in, have I achieved
In the Heart of my Master Creator, Blessings upon blessings have
I long for the unknown, the new Birth, Into the arms of my Creator Devine
Father, Mother, Compassionate and Tender, Always Lord I am totally thine.
By Julitta Fernando