The Western Province of Sri Lanka is now the most densely populated province of Sri Lanka. It is home to the legislative capital Sri Jayawardenapura as well to Colombo, the nation’s administrative and business centre. The western province of Sri Lanka in 1861 had the area of 3,820 square miles and its inhabitants were 595,000. The mission of Alutkuru Korale was in the Western Province, one of the six administrative provinces in then Ceylon. The Vicariate Apostolic of the South or of Colombo comprised of the Southern, Western, and Central Provinces in 1861.
The mission of Alutkuru Korale was on the east of Colombo-Negombo main road; it began from the 7th mile from Colombo towards the direction of Negombo extended till the 10th miles from Negombo, having the mission of Negombo to the north, the mission of Pamunugama to the west, and to the east a portion of the Negombo mission. According to the Ecclesiastical Returns of the Southern Vicariate for 1852, the areas of Palliyawatta, Nayakakanda, Uswetikeyawa, Mahapamunugama, Mahadalvala, Bopitiya, Talahena, Udammita, Dehiyagatha, Kotugoda, Tudella, Midellavita, Kanuwana, Weligampitiya, Wevala, Kandana, Nagoda, Ragama, and Mabole form together the mission of Alutkuru Korale. The word ‘Korale’ refers an administrative division. In the whole of mission there were 19 centres with a population of 11,949 Catholics, entrusted to the care of three missionaries in 1852. The Catholics are mixed with the Buddhists and with some Protestants. The inhabitants were Sinhala people.
The Oblate missionaries came to the Vicariate of the South in 1851, when Mgr. Eugene de Mazenod at the request of Propaganda Fide sent four Oblates to the Vicariate Apostolic of the South. It was the first group of Oblates to be sent to the Southern (Colombo) Vicariate. They were placed under the jurisdiction of Bishop Giuseppe Maria Bravi, a Sylvestrine, Vicar Apostolic of Colombo, whereas the Oblates who were already working since 1847 in the North were under the jurisdiction of Bishop Orazio Bettachini, an Oratorian, Vicar Apostolic of Jaffna. But both groups had Fr. Étienne Semeria, o.m.i., as their Religious Superior.
It was Fr. Adrien Duffo, o.m.i., came to this mission of Alutkuru Korale for the first time among the Oblates on 31 August 1853. He was given in charge of the churches of Wevala up to Kotugoda and Midellawita. He also was the first European priest to come in charge of it. In a letter to Fr. Semeria, his superior, when spoke about his mission he says, ‘‘my mission is situated along the main road from Colombo to Negombo, equally distant from both towns. It is bounded on one side by the canal that runs between the two towns; and on the other side by forests and broad rice fields, It is nine miles long and four miles wide’’. Also he said that the principal church was in Tudella, and other churches were very close to one another. But in regard to its Christian life and Faith, it was in bad condition since they lived in the midst of Buddhists and Protestants. But Fr. Duffo found there much scope for his apostolic zeal. Most of them were poor, earning their livelihood through fishing in the river or in the lake, cultivating rice, tobacco and vegetables. Fr. Duffo committed himself totally to his work, visited the Christian families, and instructed them in their faith. He inaugurated a school in Tudella on 1 March 1854, and asked the Christian parents to send their children only to that school, where reading and writing and religious knowledge were taught. Thus he protected the children from the influence of the Protestants and Buddhists. He prepared the boys and girls for First Communion and enrolled them into the Sodality of our Lady. During his short stay at the mission of Alutkuru Korale, he had baptized 373 infants, 37 adults from Buddhism, and 30 adults from Protestantism. He also blessed 95 marriages and officiated at 150 funerals.
In April 1854 Fr. Duffo together with other two Oblates under the direction of Fr. Dominique Pulicani, o.m.i., went to Wevela to introduce Christianity to that village. Their first attempts met with opposition. But later they succeeded in converting the 85 year old Headman of the place. Thus, they gradually built a church dedicated to Saint Lazarus in Wevala. The church was blessed on 24 September 1854 in the presence of many people.
Fr. Duffo had been in the mission only for short time till 1855. In 1856 Fr. Jean-Pierre Perréard, o.m.i., came to this mission. He was entrusted the churches of Nativity of Our Lady, Holy Rosary, Our Lady of Sorrows, Saint Michael, Saint Joseph, Saint Joachim, Saints. Peter and Paul, Saint Philip, Saint Cajetan, Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Anne, Saint Sebastian. It was in 1858 he was transferred from this mission. During these times in 1855 and 1856 Fr. Laurent Jean-Pierre Lallement, o.m.i., also had been in this mission in another region.
According to Bishop Bravi in the report of his Pastoral Visitation, it was about three fourths of the population within the limits of this mission was Catholic. And they are all Sinhala people. The catholic population was 15,685 in 1863 in this mission.
At the beginning of 1866, the General Administration of the Oblates decided to pull out the Oblates serving in the Vicariate of Colombo and sent them to join the Oblates in the Vicariate of Jaffna. Thus, all the three Oblates left the vicariate. Again it was in 1883 when Propaganda Fide entrusted the vicariate of Colombo to Oblates and transferred Bishop Ernest Christophe Bonjean, o.m.i., from Jaffna to the vicariate of Colombo, Oblates came again and extended their services in most parts of the vicariate.
Jerome Velichor, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Boudens, Robrecht, o.m.i., Catholic
Missionaries in a British Colony, Immensee, 1979, p. 65-75.
Philip, Jesuthasan, o.m.i., Our Tribute, Vol. I, Ampitiya, 2001, p. 120, 186.
Perniola, V., S.J., The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka: The British Period, Vol. III, Dehiwala, 2001, p. 02-341; Vol. IV, p.03-445.