ASIA-OCEANIACOLOMBO - A cherished part of the Oblate Congregation
(The Oblate Superior General, Father Wilhelm STECKLING, visited the provinces of Colombo and Jaffna during December 2009. What follows are excerpts from the welcoming address of the provincial of the Colombo Province, Fr. Clement WAIDYASEKARA, and Father General’s response to Oblates gathered on December 1 at the Gerard House in Colombo.)
Fr. Clement Waidyasekara, OMI, Provincial of Colombo
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country in South Asia where one fourth of the population of twenty one million people lives below poverty line, struggling to eke out an existence worthy of human dignity. There is a widening gap between the few rich and the majority poor. Lack of job opportunities has made many people, especially the women, both married and unmarried, seek jobs abroad, thereby causing also break-down in family life.
Globalised consumerism, ecological crisis, violence, information technology and sex tourism are factors that are causing erosion of our genuine cultural values, attitudes and customs.
Though Sri Lanka is blessed with the four major Religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, the core values of these living faiths do not appear to influence the socio-economic, religious, cultural and political institutions in Sri Lanka For example, in the ongoing conflict we had between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), non-violence as a value has not been effective to bring about better understanding and harmony between the different ethnic groups. Non-violence as means to achieve justice and peace was not strongly affirmed by the Institutional Leadership of the Catholic Church.
A gradual mounting of religious intolerance by certain Buddhists particularly against the Christian Fundamentalists, affecting also all the Christian denominations, has created a feeling of insecurity and fear among the Christians who are a minority in Sri Lanka.
In the context of the above-mentioned realities, we, the Oblates of the Colombo Province of Sri Lanka, do make concerted effort to respond to the emerging challenges with creative fidelity to our Oblate charism, in the light of the Immense Hope project. This means identifying and naming the categories of people who are excluded and evolving a new way of evangelizing the abandoned people and the injured natural environment. Though it is not an easy task, we are called to be the bearers of hope and transformation, centered on Jesus Christ and his spirituality.
Father Wilhelm Steckling, OMI, Superior General
During my visit, I will try to keep my eyes and ears open to know and appreciate what you are doing with the poor as missionaries of the poor. Your Province exists from the time of our Founder. It is an old, well-established Oblate Province with its merits in the Church history of Sri Lanka and also in the church history worldwide.
The Church has today a special mission in the field of reconciliation and it also is a big task for the Oblates in Sri Lanka. It is an essential mission of the Church. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation”. (2 Cor 5: 18-19). It would be a great mistake to mix up reconciliation with pacifism – being nice to each other. We have to work for justice too, but for us Christians, there is more to it. Reconciliation has to do with the Paschal Mystery of Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI, writing in his letter, “Spe Salvi” (42), says, “There can be no justice without the resurrection of the dead.” Reconciliation cannot bring back the dead but it can pave the way for new relationship between victims and perpetrators based on the example of Jesus on the Cross. Jesus did not use power, become violent or revengeful. He pardoned all and it is right there that resurrection of Jesus happened. Once reconciled, Christians become ambassadors of pardon and peace.
At the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, a Sister from Rwanda had come forward to bear testimony to an incident in her life. She had lost her family in the war. One day she went to see the prisoners and there was a man who knew her since he had been a neighbour in her village. But she did not know him. He fell at her feet and confessed, “I am the one who killed your family.” The Sister forgave him. She is now working wholeheartedly for the reconciliation in her country. The Synod of Bishops for Africa has said that the Church in Africa has the duty to be an instrument of reconciliation and peace after the heart of Christ, who is our peace and reconciliation. The document, “Ecclesia in Asia” had already spelled out on the same mission some years earlier.
Pope John Paul II, when he visited Sri Lanka in 1995 said, “This is God’s will for Sri Lanka! Forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.” How can we put into practice what the Spirit of the Lord suggests to us through the voice of the Church? It is good for your Province to renew the missionary priorities. They need to be re-defined, taking reconciliation into account. The last Chapter wanted to be practical. Among the suggestions put forward, there was one regarding Pilot Communities. Pilot communities dedicated to new ministries are needed. Such communities will have more power than individual work. You need to encourage such communities.
Your Province is very strong in academia. You have a good number of Oblates qualified in Higher Studies. You need to find out what you want to do as a Province and in view of that, send Oblates for Higher Studies. Emphasis must be laid on the importance of community life. The aspect of mission should come natural to us. But our Founder before on his death bed insisted on community life. He said three times, “Charity, Charity, Charity among you.” But only once he said, “zeal for the salvation of souls.”
I appreciate very much what you all are doing for God’s mission. You are a cherished part of our Congregation. You remind me of our Founder. Every time I go to Aix, I try to visit the tomb of Bishop Semeria who is buried in the family tomb of the De Mazenod’s. Let us continue to keep alive the flame of our charism entrusted to us and through which we are called to produce some results.
PHILIPPINES - A crime that cries out to Heaven
On November 23, at least 57 unarmed civilians were slain in the province of Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines. The Oblate Archbishop of Cotabato, Mons. Orlando QUEVEDO, wrote the following condemnation of this wanton act of violence.THAILAND - The God whom we await is already with us
To all People of Good Will:
Last Monday, 23 November 2009, the shocking news of a horrifying massacre began circulating through radio, text messages, and word of mouth. Twenty four hours later, there were still no complete and accurate reports on what really happened along the highway between Shariff Aguak and Kauran, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The number of people massacred continues to rise even now, family-members, friends, legal advocates, journalists, and civilians who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
From the beginning there was no doubt that we were hearing or reading of a tragedy unprecedented in the history of the once empire province of Cotabato, unprecedented in its ferocity, brutality and brazenness.
People cry out to God and to one another, “How could this thing happen?” And as more and more bodies were unearthed from that now infamous “killing field,” the wailing and grieving of hundreds of families related to the victims as brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, cousins, nephews and nieces, in laws or friends are turning into righteous rage and the natural desire for vendetta. For the sake of humanity we must not give in to this desire to seek vengeance that can so easily spiral into a cycle of violence.
From the depths of my soul as a religious leader, I condemn in the strongest possible way this barbaric act of massacre as a conscience-less crime that cries out to heaven.
As a citizen I demand that the government, without fear or favor, use all its powers and decisively act to identify and arrest the perpetrators and apply the full force of the law on them.
As a believer in the God of all, I pray for the souls of the victims and ask the Lord to console, comfort, and give strength to their families. I grieve with them and express my deepest sympathies.
Many politicians and non-politicians have quickly blamed others for this shocking tragedy. This is only partly right and conveniently absolves us from any culpability. My sense of history leads me to believe that somehow we all share the blame to a certain extent. A culture of impunity has, indeed, grown through the years. Political administrations and officials from all parties from the 1960s to the present have cultivated and exploited to their own advantage a social structure of traditional leadership that was meant to be for the good of the people. This was so with powerful political families in other parts of the country. We have not tried to change this culture of political convenience and thus allowed a culture of impunity to endure through successive administrations. Elections have not and will not change this situation. We simply get more of the same.
We need to change from the bottom-up, from individuals to families, from families to communities. We need to change our values that tolerate evil or choose the lesser evil. We need to learn new values that will transform our cultures from within. For Muslims the Koran, faithfully and correctly followed, will be a guide. For Christians, the Holy Bible, also faithfully and correctly interpreted, will provide direction for value transformation.
Beloved People of Good Will, yes, indeed, we must condemn. We must demand decisive action for justice. We must pray. But we also must begin to change. With the grace of God, we can.
+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato
November 26, 2009
(This is a story of the mission of Fr. Domenico RODIGHIERO.)SRI LANKA - Oblates: Agents of peace and reconciliation
In November, I went with my seminarians to meet the children of Father Thonciai and to speak to them about consecrated missionary life. Our destination was Mee Thoo, in the province of Meonson, a lovely area in the North of Thailand near Burma, about 800 km from Bangkok. Mee Thoo is small village of farmers, hidden in a narrow valley of the mountain. It’s impressive to venture along the narrow, curving, overhanging road that leads to Mee Thoo. Upon our arrival, Fr. Thonciai was there waiting for us; he warmly welcomed us and invited us for supper. His parish extends for kilometers across the peaks of the mountain. He has been assigned a mountain tribe that is accustomed to a poor and hard life. Many would want to become Catholics, but he cannot do the follow-up in all 36 villages, some relatively near the center where he lives, but others, hours away; others, reachable only on motorcycle or on foot.On the next day, early in the morning, we went to celebrate Mass, an hour and half drive from the Center. Fr. Thonciai celebrated in the local language, “Pakhaio,” and I preached the homily in Thai. Everyone looked at me a bit surprised; then I understood that what seemed strange to them was the presence of a foreigner, a priest, in that remote mountain area. After the Mass, we spent about an hour with the people…extraordinary! At about noon, we had lunch. At the home of the family who had invited us, we ate plentiful local food, but for me, new flavors. But after the meal, a surprise! Another family had prepared lunch for us, and then another one. The Pakhaio are really masters of hospitality and one cannot refuse their welcome.Afterwards, Fr. Thonciai accompanied us to a little village a few kilometers from the Center: about 30 families, houses built on top of each other, the rough streets barely passable, an isolated world, far removed in space and time from the world of the city. The catechist, expecting our visit, was waiting for us, very happy that on that Sunday, Mass would be celebrated in his village. Prichia is his name; he invited us to his house to chat a bit before the Mass. Seated on the ground before glasses of rice alcohol, kept for the occasion, Prichia began to tell us of his life and of his love for his village. He told us about how catechism is organized in the area assigned to him and he spoke about developments in his work.After chatting for a while, we went out and, I would say, nearly climbed to the front of the little church. The catechist rang the bell to summon the faithful and to announce that they were gathering for Mass. There was no schedule, just the sound of a gong made from the old hubcap of a Toyota. In front of the church, it was a wonderful sight; little by little the people began to gather, first the children, then the young mothers with their babies tied to their bosoms with special cloths, then the men. Everyone was festively dressed in the traditional costume, happy to be able to celebrate Mass. Again Fr. Tonchiai used the local language and I preached the homily in Thai. That Mass, among those poor people, was a stupendous experience. I felt like I was in the stable; the expectation of the Lord was strong; the encounter with him was enthusiastic, like the shepherds at the grotto; the fruits of his coming were obvious.The next day, I returned home, with renewed enthusiasm for the mission and with a heart filled with gratitude because the God whom we are awaiting is already here with us, is already at work in the hearts of the simple people, making these men and women new persons, full of joy and zeal. (www.rodighierodomenico.org)
A deadly war which lasted for nearly thirty long years in Sri Lanka, draining the country of its financial resources and creating feelings of enmity, suspicion and hatred between different ethnic communities, was brought to an end with the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) on 19 May 2009. But the final days of the war left in its wake a horrendous trail of death and destruction of unimaginable proportions. The number and names of those who died or disappeared as the conflict reached its final stages will remain an unsolved mystery for many years to come. One of the saddest episodes of this war has been the fate of 350,000 Tamil civilians who were trapped in a narrow strip of land between the advancing government forces and the LTTE in the north-eastern part of the island. Considered by the Sri Lankan government to be a phenomenal hostage rescue operation, these displaced civilians were soon herded into ‘welfare centres’, which were in fact detention camps surrounded by barbed wire. Except for International Caritas and certain UN Agencies, all other international relief organizations and the press have been refused entry into the camp premises.
Despite these restrictions, Fr. Rohan Silva, head of the Centre for Society and Religion, the Oblate Research and Action Centre for Justice and Peace and Reconciliation, was able to establish cordial relations with government officials. This permitted him and his team of religious to have access to the Cheddikulam and Vavuniya camps and to the Vavuniya hospital in the north where he has been able to establish what he refers to as a ‘Ministry of Presence’ among these forsaken and helpless displaced civilians. Already, over 90 religious sisters have served in these camps organizing children into 13 pre-schools and befriending and consoling particularly the women and young girls who are in great need of healing.
Recently, Fr. Rohan went one step further. On 16 December, with the help of 40 boys and girls from the La-Kri-Vi children’s movement, a special Oblate apostolate for young leadership affiliated to the International Movement of Children (IMAC), led by its vivacious and dynamic director, Oblate Father Joe Cooray, permission was obtained to conduct a full day’s reconciliation and interactive programme with young residents in the camps where the Oblates and religious sisters serve. This unique and historical event consisted of songs focused on peace and interracial harmony and Tamil and Sinhala cultural dances and skits. The events which gave rise to expressions and emotional feelings, resulting sometimes in tears, went beyond words and straight to the heart.
Even though the children coming from outside and those in the camps spoke two entirely different languages, this was not experienced as a barrier since both communities spoke a language against violence and of shared values of co-existence of and ethnic harmony. Children were seen as the best protagonists for building a new Sri Lanka where the diversity of cultures, religions and languages would bring all communities to unite in forgiveness for the past and craft a harmonious future for generations to come. Fr. Oswald Firth, the Assistant General for Mission, joined in the day’s events and appreciated the witness value of many religious congregations working with the laity of all religions to promote harmony among communities that were once at war with each other. (Fr. Oswald Firth)