ASIA-OCEANIACOLOMBO: Thomas Cardinal Cooray, OMI, Servant of God
Fr. Clement WAIDYASEKARA, the General Councillor for Asia-Oceania, has announced some good news for Sri Lanka and for the Congregation at large.
On October 29, 2010, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal-elect Malcolm Ranjith, proclaimed Thomas Benjamin Cardinal COORAY, a Servant of God, thus officially opening the canonization process for the late Oblate Cardinal. Many priests, religious and laity took part in the Eucharistic celebration in the Basilica of Our Lady of Lanka, a church built by Cardinal Cooray. The Oblates expressed their profound gratitude to Archbishop Malcolm for taking this initiative on his own.
Cardinal Cooray was born on December 28, 1901in at Periyamulla, Negombo, in the Archdiocese of Colombo. He professed his first vows as an Oblate in 1925 and, after studying philosophy at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Colombo, he went to the International Scholasticate in Rome for his theological studies at the Angelicum where he obtained Ph.D. and a D.D. degrees. He was ordained a priest in 1929.
In 1947 he was appointed archbishop of the Archdiocese of Colombo. “To serve, not to be served” was his motto: In 1950 he founded the minor seminary, focusing his commitment on the missionary formation of young seminarians. In addition, under his leadership the Church in Sri Lanka found ways and means to bring religious education to schools.
Thomas Cooray was appointed cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1965, a “first” for Sri Lanka. President of the Bishops Conference in Sri Lanka for 30 years, he retired from office in 1976. The Cardinal passed away in 1988, and his remains are buried in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, in the basilica built by him. He is the first Sinhalese for whom the cause for beatification and canonization has been opened.
August 17th is a yearly fete for the people of Tabawan Island (South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi). It is the birth date of Fr. Leopold GREGOIRE, OMI – a legend in the island. It is now known as the Founder’s Day, referring, of course, not to the foundation of the island but to the foundation of Notre Dame of Tabawan (NDT).
Since School Year 1963-64, NDT has offered the young people of Tabawan and the neighboring islands quality secondary education. NDT has produced Moro professionals who now serve in government and the private sector. This fact is recognized as the unique contribution of NDT to the province of Tawi-Tawi.
Fr. Gregoire was not only known as the Founder of NDT, he is also known as a man passionately in love for the people of Tabawan. He was their ‘Bapah’, their ‘Medicine Man’, and the ‘Conjurer of the Lutaos’ (spirits). And he understood them by joining in their yearly ancestor’s ritual (the umboh).
The ancestor’s ritual, in many ways, is the continuing living tradition that ties the people to the island. Wherever the people of Tabawan go (here or abroad), they feel the urge to come back to the island and perform the rituals. This has characterized the lives of the people uninterruptedly from as far back as they can remember.
Tabawan is also ‘notoriously’ etched in the mind of people, especially Oblates, as the locus of Fr. Rey RODA’S martyrdom. On January 15th, 2008, Fr. Rey shed his blood as a ‘ransom’ for the people of Tabawan. He was brutally murdered by a band of criminals associated with Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
Both Fr. Gregoire and Fr. Rey had become a sort of ‘umboh’ to the people of Tabawan. Their lives and their deaths were spent for the people and the island.
The people of Tabawan belongs to the Sama group who are the majority inhabitants of the Province of Tawi-Tawi. The Sama are peace-loving people. The islands, including Tabawan, are generally tranquil. The men are simple fisher folks and their women are mat weavers. The Sama people are known for their simplicity and openness compared to the more aggressive groups in Southern Philippines.
Yet there are also crimes and killings in the province. But people consider these crimes to be caused by the ‘outsiders’. Usually these ‘outsiders’ terrorize the helpless Sama who are known to be meek and submissive people of the South.
After the martyrdom of Fr. Rey, Fr. Rito DAQUIPIL, who then was the Pastor of Bongao, volunteered to take Tabawan Mission, notwithstanding his fear. His missionary generosity and abiding trust in Lord’s protection have allowed him to embrace this fearsome and lonesome island as his new mission.
The 2010 celebration, as usual, was an island-wide community celebration. But, this time, Fr. Jun MERCADO come all the way from Cotabato, riding on a fast speed boat (courtesy of the Provincial Governor) to witness the annual fete. He was joined by Fr. Jun DE LA CRUZ and Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz Reyes of Bongao. (OMI Philippines, October 2010)
In early September 2010, a third group of participants in Australia’s Partners in Mission Program arrived in Beijing. They are working with China Little Flower, taking care of handicapped children as well as teaching English in the local primary school. They want to share with us why they are in Beijing and why they want to make a difference, no matter how small, to another person’s life.
Frances Ryan is a widow and the mother of three children, grandmother of eleven. She comes from Ulladulla in New South Wales. She was a teacher for many years and is using that experience now with children in China: “I was interested in learning more about the Mission. I telephoned the Oblates in Melbourne and put my name down, however I heard no more until late 2009. I now had a direction in my life that I had being searching for since my, husband Peter’s passing. My family and friends have being very supportive and happy for me. They in turn are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.”
Wendy Williams and her husband are the parents of four children. Her home is in Sydney where she has been a nurse for over 40 years: “I hope to be of some help in the orphanage and give the hard workers a little break. I also want to help the students to learn English. In turn, I would like to have a better understanding of the Chinese culture and through my actions spread the word of God and my Faith.”
Luisa Amati is the youngest of three daughters born to Italian parents who migrated from Italy in 1968 to settle in the area of Melbourne: “After experiencing a personally challenging year in 2009, I could not help but feel a little lost and despondent about life. What was my purpose in life and how do I set about finding the answer? The question sat with me for a long while as I continued to live and work through life. The answer came to me through Father Christian FINI, OMI, during a Sunday morning mass. Father Fini had just returned from Beijing, China, where he had spent some time with the China Little Flower orphanage. He spoke of his wonderful experience, of his gratitude and more importantly, of the great need to assist the orphaned children of China. I knew for the first time in a long while what my calling was to be.”
Luisa continues: “After a week of living in China, Wendy, Fran and I headed over to the China Little Flower orphanage. I was filled trepidation. How was I going to feel, what was I going to see and what could I offer these abandoned little children?
“As we entered the orphanage the one thing I noticed was the calmness of the place. I was excepting to see nurses and children running around, disorganized chaos and noise. I soon became a part of a wonderful environment of calmness and love.
“All of the children have a little story of how they came to be orphaned but unfortunately, these stories will never be told. The children have no past, no name, no date of birth and no understanding of exactly what disability or illness they have or how they came to be. They will never know their parents or siblings, their background or heritage. I salute all the staff at the orphanage; they are doing an excellent job and have a strong spirit and faith.” (www.oblateschina.com)