Response to a Flippant Commentary on Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
It was with curiosity that I read the article by Mr. Sanjeewa Fernando, under the intriguing title; “From Homilies on Piety to Harangues in Politics” appearing in the Daily Mirror of June 24, 2020. Therein, the writer adopts an old strategy – applaud first and attack thereafter, using politician Harin Fernando’s tirade against Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith as a launching pad. “Right-wing Sinhala Buddhist”
The writer starts castigating the politician concerned, declaring; “many Christians and Catholics have expressed anger over the manner in which this politician attacked the higher most official of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka”. Thereafter, he sneaks in a line saying; “many from the Right-Wing Sinhala Buddhist political spectrum too are seemingly shocked by the comments made relating to the Cardinal”. The inclusion of the words ‘Sinhala Buddhist’ along with ‘Right-Wing’ elements is misleading. “Controversial and Uncalled for Statements”
The writer in another twist, praises the Cardinal for his; “Leadership in averting a communal bloodbath in the immediate aftermath of the April 2019 carnage”. After this show of objectivity, the writer disparagingly accuses him; “for some times making controversial and mainly uncalled for statements”, and adds; “Unfortunately His Eminence the Cardinal – the present Archbishop has forayed into the sensitive political melee time and again thus arousing suspicion whether he was aligned with a certain political party”.
Indeed the leadership that the Cardinal fearlessly gave in such disastrous times, is misinterpreted by the writer to be the Cardinal’s intention to be aligned to a political party. “Attacks on Christian Places of Worship”
The writer delivers another punch when he sarcastically declares; “When there were allegations of a spate of attacks on Christian and Catholic places of worship, the Cardinal was blissfully unaware of such attacks.” Let the readers verify his statement with the following facts;
In 2006, the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress set up a Commission to inquire into the conversion of Sri Lankan Buddhists to other religions. This inquiry was established owing to growing fear among the Buddhists that Christians/Catholics were engaged in a planned project to make Christianity the dominant religion. This fear-psychosis was further aroused when a Reverend Monk returning from overseas, used the electronic media to create bitter religious animosity. A spate of attacks ensued. It uses to implicate the Cardinal as being in a state of “blissful ignorance”. The fact remains that Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith was not the Archbishop Cardinal at that time. The writer further states; “Yet civil rights activists have listed dozens if not hundreds of incidents where churches, prayer gatherings, priests, houses of faithful came under the threat of attack.” Yes, during that period, prodded by the media, mobs attacked several Christian/Catholic churches with impunity. The agitators even demanded a ban on Carol services and Christmas Midnight Masses. In this tragic environment, protesting however vigorously would have become an exercise in futility.
It was then that the former Archbishops, Bishops, and especially Archbishop Emeritus Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis and later, Cardinal Ranjith as Colombo’s Archbishop, engaged in an open dialogue to dispel a sense of insecurity in the minds of the Buddhist majority. This ecumenical approach brought about a Buddhist-Christian amity. Indeed, the Buddhist majority came together to welcome Pope Francis on his visit to Sri Lanka. Further, Pope Francis’ visit to a famous Buddhist shrine and the cordiality the monks showed him became historic. What was touching was the solidarity demonstrated by Buddhist clergy when they visited the Catholic churches affected by the April 2019 Easter attacks, with several monks opting even to sweep the floor of the damaged Katuwapitiya church. “The Cardinal Enjoys the Tolerant Buddhist Environment”
The writer cynically comments; “Yet the Cardinal was enjoying the tolerant Buddhist environment (which) he kept referring to in his statements, while the faithful struggled to uphold their religious rights, an uphill battle without the support of their shepherd”. When and where did the writer really struggle to uphold his religious rights with Cardinal Ranjith as the Archbishop of Colombo? “Need for Dialogue”
"The leadership that the Cardinal fearlessly gave in such disastrous times, is misinterpreted by the writer to be the Cardinal’s intention to be aligned to a political party. “Attacks on Christian Places of Worship”
Since the writer distorts the Cardinal’s efforts to bring about the Buddhist/Christian amity, let me quote volume 77, 9 September 2013 of Vidyajothi journal, “Theological Reflection” that carries the message of the First FABC Plenary Assembly where the Asian Bishops viewed;
“Mission as a dialogue with the three-fold reality of Asia; its rich culture, it’s ancient and great religions and the poor”.
Indeed the dialogue initiated courageously by Cardinal Ranjith, has taught people of goodwill to appreciate the Sinhala-Buddhist, Tamil-Hindu cultures and the socio-cultural ethos of Islam. It was edifying to behold an erudite Buddhist prelate preaching an Anusasana based on the Gospel of St. Mathew at the Late Archbishop Nicholas Marcus’ funeral rites recently. “Meaningless Rewinding of History”
The writer then goes at a tangent to rewind history to highlight the tragedies of the Southern insurgencies, saying; “100,000 lives were lost; most of them extra judicially, abducted, under torture, burned on tires by the way side.”,(?). Adding the Northern conflict into the equation, he asks the frivolous question as to whether such tragedies; “have not crossed the Cardinal’s mind”. Thereafter he questions as to what purpose “the religious environment has served remedying such catastrophe”. He accuses the Cardinal that he has “omitted to mention” such tragic events. We may well ask the writer as to when and where this omission has occurred. Truly, this reference is meaningless. “Misguided Youth or Fundamentalist Terrorists”
Again, the writer castigates His Eminence for considering as “misguided youth”, whom the writer himself treats as; “fundamentalist terrorists”. In this context let me refer to an inspiring book, “Facing the Taliban” by Anoja Wijeyesekera, a brave Sri Lankan personality attached to UNICEF. She served four traumatising years in Jalalabad, Afghanistan bringing desperate relief to women and children there. She volunteered to serve as the Head of the Regional Office and did so with immense courage amidst grave danger requiring enormous personal sacrifice. The book provides the first hand revelation pertaining to the genesis of the armed Islamic fundamentalism which many seek to
call – Islamic terrorism.
“The US dollars given to the Islamic fundamentalists through the ISI [Inter Services Intelligence] of Pakistan succeeded in boosting fundamentalism to levels of acceptability not previously seen.”
“Millions of dollars were provided to Mullahs through ISI, to open hundreds of madrassas. Thousands of young boys were turned into “Jihadists”. Barely able to read or write, but perfectly indoctrinated in killing, these young boys were sent to Afghanistan by the battalion to annihilate the Russian infidels. Dying in the battle field was regarded as the ultimate gift of God for rich rewards would be waiting for them in heaven. For these boys whose life on earth was one of hardship and struggle; the rewards in heaven were too tempting.”
“The lucky ones died on the desolate mountain sides but the thousands who were unlucky, survived their gruesome injuries, only to live a life of disability, pain, hardship and indescribable suffering.”
Would the writer, reading this pathetic story still insist on naming such youth “Islamic Terrorists”, or with a measure of sympathy regard them as misguided youth as the Cardinal does. “Guided by Google”
The writer, unwittingly discloses his source of information on the Cardinal as coming from the google search “Cardinal Ranjith in Politics”. Many such sites exist to malign prominent personalities. These sites can damage others’ reputation. Isn’t it the moral responsibility of any journalist to avoid being guided by such sources of misinformation? “Bishop Desmond Tutu and Archbishop Romero”
"The dialogue initiated courageously by Cardinal Ranjith, has taught people of goodwill to appreciate the Sinhala-Buddhist, Tamil-Hindu cultures and the socio-cultural ethos of Islam"
The writer continues: “The Catholic Church has produced leaders such Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Oscar Romero of El Salvador who took to political stances; but for the marginalised, the poor, and the discriminated and the under privileged but not to toe the line of any political alliance”. He sarcastically concludes; “It is very difficult to put Cardinal Ranjith on that exalted pedestal”. What is significant is that the writer has chosen to omit the need for the fight for “Justice” in his list. Cardinal Ranjith has indeed led a struggle which may be misconstrued as “taking a line in party politics”. When political misdeeds result in miscarriage of justice it’s imperative that such actions be brought to light even if it seems to be supporting those in opposition.
In this context let me recommend a book titled “God is not a Christian” by Bishop Desmond Tutu. Therein, we find a chapter titled “What about Justice”. Let me quote;
“We should not be scared of becoming confrontational in facing people with the wrong that they have done.”
“Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending things aren’t as they really are. Forgiveness does not mean trying to paper over cracks. Forgiveness means that both the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something happened. There is necessarily a measure of confrontation. People sometimes think you should not be abrasive. But some time you have to be, to make people acknowledge that they have done something wrong”.
Now compare Bishop Tutu’s admonition with Cardinal’s quest for justice in times of crisis as being in harmony. “Crossing the Rubicon of Politics” (a point of no return)
The writer states “Other religions, specially the Christian faith have so far kept aloof of national politics and kept their reputation and regard in society intact. Yet there is only one personage who always comes dangerously close to crossing that line, not through direct political activity but through actions and statements that fall into the grey area where subjective interpretation could render them politically biased expression of opinion”. The author refers to this as crossing the political Rubicon which “robs the prestige that the robes give”. In this context an incident relating to the Late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen should be recalled. The Archbishop, during the height of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and when US military atrocities were rampant against the people of Vietnam, did indeed “cross the Rubicon of politics”. He visited the White House to demand the withdrawal of the US Military from Vietnam. The western media then was portraying this war as a fight against communism. Archbishop Sheen, a popular preacher was also known for his anti-communist sentiments. Despite this philosophical outlook, his new political demand arose from his moral standing against the destruction of Vietnam. For him, this was a turning point.
Similarly, Cardinal Ranjith’s pronouncements became vociferous as danger loomed. There was nothing else he could have done. He had to cross the line of no return, and speak out fearlessly, also putting his life in grave peril. In history, one’s previous silence is no excuse for further silence. “Existence Determines Consciousness”
It is clear that the Cardinal has come a long way since he became a priest and later a Bishop. Earlier he may not have taken such radical and progressive steps as he does now.
A 19th century philosopher has stated; “existence determines consciousness”, which saying applies to the Cardinal as it does to any of us. His closeness to the common man as seen during his parish encounters and visits to the houses of the poor, has made him a compassionate shepherd compelled to play a prophetic role despite strident opposition.