Giving back hope to people in the New Year – The Island

2021-12-28 07:46:02 By : Mr. Fancy Yunnan

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The Chairperson of the Presidential commission on One Country, One Law Commission, Ven Galagodaathe Gnanasara, has expressed the view that the country should be ruled by the Sri Lanka Army for a few years to put it right.  Implicit in his assertion, if rightly conveyed by the Tamil language media to which he gave his interview, is his lack of faith in democracy. Also implicit is the preference for top-down decision making that is inherent in the military together with the use of force to subdue the Opposition.  The country is edging towards chaos, with the economy in steep decline and corruption and impunity on the rise.  Difficult decisions need to be made before the people’s frustrations take a public form.

The situation in the country today is especially hard on those on fixed incomes. They are finding it hard to feed their families as they could do till the recent past. Their salaries have not changed over the past six months but prices have soared even those of staples such as rice, meats and vegetables.  There is apprehension that people may face economic hardships on an even worse scale, and across the board, if the government fails to repay its loans and defaults on them.  Already there are ships in the harbours and containers in the ports that cannot be cleared as there is no foreign exchange to pay for them.

There are also groups of people who are living an affluent lifestyle in the midst of this crisis. One of the reasons given for the prorogation was that it gives parliamentarians a break to enjoy the Christmas vacation with their families.  The media subsequently reported that as many as 60 of them had gone abroad with their families.  The question is how they are doing so well when the masses of people are doing so badly.  The belief that the lifestyle of the rules and ruled are far apart may explain the jeers and hooting that have manifested at restaurants and public events attended by leaders of the government.

The Catholic priest and theologian, Fr Aloysius Pieris, has written an article on Celebrating Christmas Amidst a Political Crisis.  He looks at the period in which Jesus Christ was born, makes his observations and leaves his readers to come to their conclusions.  The situation that existed over 2000 years ago in the Middle East bears many resemblances to Sri Lanka today, and also to other countries at various stages of their evolution.  The message of hope is that over the past two millennia, the struggles of great individuals have led to the development of institutional mechanisms that prevent such abuses. It requires leaders willing to give leadership to take up the challenge of implementation.

There are five parallels that we can draw from the account of Christmas by Fr Pieris.  The first is the nature of the ruler of that time when Jesus lived, Herod of Galilee who has been described as a ruler who was dependent on a foreign power (Rome).  He was used by another country, which through him, kept his own people in subjugation.  Second, Herod was involved in major development projects, such as a port and the building of the temple of Jerusalem which had been started by his father.  He was, therefore able to obtain the support of the religious clergy.  Third, he lived with a large number of bodyguards as he lived in fear for his life.

The fourth parallel is that the king felt politically insecure and this made him resort to violence.  When he heard that another king was to be born (Jesus, whom he mistook for a worldly king like himself) he ordered all new born male infants to be killed. As a result the first Christmas took place in the midst of a nationwide panic and political turmoil, much like the elections that took in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter bombing and killing of innocents.   Fifth, the Roman emperor, Augustus, believed himself to be a god, and groomed his adopted son to be his successor.

In particular the issues of impunity and corruption loom large as Sri Lanka heads towards the New Year.  Holding people to account for the wrongs or mistakes they may have committed has not been in evidence where it concerns those who are politically powerful or connected to those who are politically powerful.  A few months ago, a government minister had entered a high security prison and intimidated prisoners with his gun. Various committees were appointed to look into the matter but the outcome is unknown.  The search for the masterminds behind the Easter bombing, sugar scam, Central Bank scam remain in abeyance.  The New Fortress power plant deal is pending.

The low key manner in which the issue of exploding gas cylinders is being viewed is another example of impunity.  Over 800 gas cylinders used by people for their cooking needs have exploded in the past few months.  At least seven people have been killed.  The findings of the committee appointed by the President is that the composition of the gases inside the cylinders were changed, which led to the pressure inside the cylinders increasing.    But the impunity to those who put profit before safety appears to be secure.  The burden of loss, even of life or of homes being burned down, falls where it lands.  This is unacceptable in a country that has taken pride in its traditional ethos of caring for those who are less privileged.

Ideas and methods of governance have evolved over the past two thousand years, since the days of King Herod and the imperial Roman army.   We do not have to tread that path. More than the targeting of individuals, systems need to change.   Institutions that check and balance power, that ensure accountability and prevent impunity, and hold government leaders to standards of honesty and non-corruption are available due to the sacrifices by great and committed people down the millennia. They require a shift of mindset by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, his advisors and government to be adapted to Sri Lankan conditions and implemented. We, the people, can encourage them best, if we practice what we preach.

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Welcoming the Seventh Bishop of Kandy: Bishop Valence Mendis

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On 9th October 2021, the Vatican announced the appointment of Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis (Bishop of Chilaw) as the Bishop of Kandy by His Holiness Pope Francis, succeeding Bishop Vianney Fernando on his retirement after a very fruitful and record-breaking long episcopate spanning more than 38 years. His installation as the 7th Bishop of Kandy will take place on 17th January 2022 at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy at a ceremony to be presided over by Bishop Vianney after which he will simultaneously shepherd the Diocese of Chilaw as its Apostolic Administrator.

Bishop Valence is no stranger to Kandy. Soon after his ordination as a priest for the Diocese of Chilaw on 20th July 1985, he was given as a “fidei donum priest” (i.e temporarily ‘loaned’) to the Diocese of Kandy by the late Bishop Frank Marcus Fernando, for a period of two years. This was in response to a request made by Bishop Vianney for a young priest to tide over a crisis arising out of a dearth of priests in the Diocese of Kandy. Thus, on 15th August 1985, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven, a young, handsome, pleasant priest celebrated the 5.30 p.m. Holy Mass at St. Anthony’s Cathedral, Kandy. The Holy Mass was edifying and the sermon was inspiring and the people of Kandy took an instant liking to this young priest whom the then Parish Priest, the late Rev. Fr Gregory Fernando introduced as “Fr. Valence Mendis who has been loaned to the Diocese of Kandy by the Bishop of Chilaw for a short period”.

Impressed both by his abilities as well as his priestly commitment, Bishop Vianney recommended to Bishop Frank Marcus in early 1987 that Fr. Valence should pursue higher studies. This was readily agreed upon by Bishop Frank Marcus who extended his period in the Diocese of Kandy by two more years so that he could read for a Master’s Degree at the University of Peradeniya.

He was transferred as the Parish Priest of Padiwatte in 1987, where he effectively used his talents and managed his time to nurture the parish and build up a vibrant community while pursuing his university career.

During this time, he also made use of his talents as a musician, lyricist and vocalist. His melodious rendition of his own composition “wdor foú iñf|a“ (Aadara Devi Saminde) in the first ever audio cassette produced by the Diocese of Kandy in 1987 to commemorate the tercentenary of the arrival of St. Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka in 1687 and the centenary of the Diocese, is still fresh in the minds of the people. (In recognition of his contribution to produce the cassette, Bishop Vianney decided to name it “wdor foú iñf|a“.

He reached out to all people without any form of favouritism or discrimination. To him all were children of God. He did not condemn the rich, but inspired them to care for the needy and the down-trodden. By his actions and persuasion, and through his inspiring and meaningful sermons he showed that one can work for the upliftment of the poor as well as act against injustice and abuse without being portrayed as a revolutionary. When it came to serving the poor or anyone in need, he always advised the people to reach out to them – (“walk the extra mile for the sake of others” was his favourite saying), and his advice was well heeded by the people because he practiced what he preached. Special mention must be made about how he guided and safeguarded the youth of the Padiwatte Parish (both Catholic and Buddhist) during the turbulent period of youth unrest and violence in 1988/1989.

He presented his thesis on “Ritualism in Buddhism” and obtained a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Religion from the University of Peradeniya in 1989.

His brief stay of 2 ½ years as Parish Priest of Padiwatte culminated with the very meaningful celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Fatima Shrine (the only Marian Shrine of the Diocese of Kandy) in October 1989. At the conclusion of the celebrations, Bishop Vianney publicly thanked him for his services to the Diocese and announced that he would henceforth revert to the Diocese of Chilaw.

In fact, when Bishop Vianney had thanked Bishop Franck Marcus for giving him a very good priest, he had said: “when I give, I give of my best”. On his return to the Diocese of Chilaw, Bishop Frank Marcus decided that his talents should be made use of to train, guide and mould the future priests of Sri Lanka. Thus began his career at the National Seminary, Ampitiya, in October 1989.

From the National Seminary he proceeded to Rome in September 1992 to read for a Doctorate in Philosophy at the Urban University. I realized the importance of his doctoral thesis (Philosophy of Creation in St. Thomas Aquinas: MAKING GOD INTELLIGIBLE TO NON-THEISTS”), only when I heard the then Abbot General of the Sylvestro-Benedictine Congregation telling him in June 1993: “Young man, you have chosen a daring subject for your thesis. I wish you good luck!”. On successfully defending his doctoral thesis within a short period of two years, he returned to the National Seminary in October 1994 and was appointed the Dean of Philosophy. When a decision was taken by the Bishops’ Conference to house the Philosophy students at a separate location, he was entrusted with the task of supervising the designing and construction of the new complex. The magnificent complex housing the Philosophate is ample proof of his versatility.

Having served the National Seminary as its first Director of the Philosphate (from October 2000) and thereafter as the Rector (from 4th February 2001), he was ordained the Co-adjutor Bishop of Chilaw on 2nd April 2005. He succeeded Bishop Frank Marcus as the Bishop of Chilaw on his retirement on 28th October 2006.

His deep spirituality which is focused on Christ and his devotion to Mother Mary and the Saints are worthy of emulation. His, is a spirituality which is a combination of prayer and action – a spirituality based on Jesus’ message of love and concern not only for the poor, the needy and the oppressed, but for all people.

Unity and charity are two words that are very dear to him – two virtues he practices very much. He is a keen promoter of unity in families, in communities, in parishes and also among peoples of different cultures, ethnicity and creed. Charity, he practices to the hilt. Therefore, it was no wonder that he chose as his motto “UNIRE OMNES IN CARITATE” (i.e., To Unite All In Charity). Indeed, his motto is a true reflection of what he has been and his vision for the future.

Up to now, Bishop Valence has shepherded the Diocese of Chilaw for 15 years. For the sake of brevity, his numerous works for the spiritual nourishment and social upliftment of his flock are not enumerated here. It suffices to mention that his commitment to justice, peace and other social issues has beautifully blended with the ultimate goal of proclaiming Jesus Christ and his message of love and peace.

He is with a smile even in times of crisis. He personifies the servant who doubled his talents for his master (as mentioned in Jesus’ parable – Mathew 25:14-30) because he continues to make full use of his gifts for the sake of Christ, His Church and His people. He put the needs of the Church above everything else when he acceded to the request of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Shepherding two Dioceses simultaneously is no easy task. Yet his zeal and commitment combined with his total trust and faith in God through the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints will surely help him to be a true shepherd – a shepherd unto God’s heart (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

The Diocese of Kandy is fortunate to have in Bishop Valence a worthy successor to Bishop Vianney as its seventh Bishop, and he has the unique distinction of succeeding two erudite and much respected Bishops of Sri Lanka in contemporary times and also simultaneously shepherding two important Dioceses, Chilaw and Kandy.

Born and bred in Moratuwa; ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Chilaw; formative years as a newly ordained priest in the Diocese of Kandy; assists the Church in Sri Lanka in guiding and moulding its future priests; goes back to the Diocese of Chilaw as its shepherd; and now comes back to the Diocese of Kandy as its shepherd while not abandoning the Diocese of Chilaw. The “fidei donum priest” of 1985 becomes the Bishop of the Diocese in 2022! All these form God’s mysterious providential plan for all of us – HIS Chosen Children through our Baptism. No wonder God tells us: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways … My thoughts are above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9), and invites us to place our faith and trust in HIM for: “With God nothing is impossible” (Luke 1:37).

As Bishop Valence takes over the Diocese of Kandy, it is our duty to seek the intercession of Mother Mary and the Saints and pray that Almighty God will grant him long life, good health, prudence, and wisdom so that he will be a good shepherd to the flock (in both Dioceses of Chilaw and Kandy) entrusted to his care by the LORD.

in the Vineyard of the Lord and welcome to Kandy, dear Bishop Devasritha Valence Mendis!

Victor Silva (FCA, FCMA, MCIM – Retired)

As 2021 draws to an end, I had some interesting news coming my way. Yes, The Gypsies plan to make their presence felt, in the music scene, in a big way…in 2022.

With the sudden demise of the group’s livewire, the legendary Sunil Perera, in September, this year, many were wondering whether the group would be in a position to continue…without their star attraction.

Sunil’s brother, Piyal, who has now taken over the leadership, wasn’t negative, in his thinking. He knew it would be tough going without Sunil, but the initial stages have worked out quite encouragingly for the group.

Their first outing, on stage, after Sunil’s death, was satisfactory, but Sunil’s presence was certainly missed, he said. And, that’s obvious….

“There is no way we can continue to follow the Sunil Perera tradition, where The Gypsies are concerned. We have got to do it differently and that is what we have mapped out for 2022,” said Piyal.

“We plan to give The Gypsies a new look, but our repertoire will continue to include all the songs made popular by Sunil.’

Piyal will be in the vocal spotlight, with the rest of the members supporting him.

There is also a possibility of The Gypsies operating, in the future, with another male vocalist, added to the present line-up, “but we have no plans, whatsoever, to revive Sunil’s golden era with imitators, look-alike, etc. That era has ended for us, as Sunil can never ever be replaced,” said Piyal.

During the festive season, The Gypsies were seen in action at quite a few club and company events and Piyal indicated that he was happy the way everything went.

The Gypsies will not be doing the 31st night scene, this year, though, but Piyal will be featured as a guest artiste, with the band OiC, at a New Year’s Eve event, in Colombo.

Although Sunil Perera is no more with us, his voice will continue to be heard, via unreleased material…the late singer dabbled in before Covid came into his scene.

One particular song is titled ‘Gallu Para’ (Galle Road) and this particular song Sunil was very keen to release, with a video, as well.

When he showed signs of recovery, from Covid, he indicated to Piyal that they need to release ‘Gallu Para,’ with a concert, to back up the release. Unfortunately, Sunil’s wish didn’t materialise.

However, Piyal is now working on the track, along with an animated video.

Describing what ‘Gallu Para’ is all about, Piyal said that Sunil takes us along Galle Road – from Galle Face, in Colombo, to the Galle Fort, in Galle – describing what he sees, along the way, in song!

And, with Sunil, at the controls, music lovers could look forward to something hilarious…the Sunil Perera way!

Before writing this missive, I posted the proposal ‘Sri Lanka’s language of higher education should be English’ and requested my FB friends to ‘express their views.’ Within 24 hours, there were 29 ‘thumps up’ and 65 comments. This is the first time that I realised that the FB could be mobilised at least in a small way in promoting (good) ideas.

Would it be a good idea to shift back to English medium? What would be the advantages and disadvantages to the graduates and the country?

Above are the questions that would be discussed in this article, based only on FB comments. Names are not mentioned as I don’t have their permission. At the outset, I must say that there were concerns expressed whether this could undermine the Sinhala language? A particular friendly comment was in Sinhala, but it was immediately translated into English by FB! I was surprised. This was the first time I realised that FB has an instant translation programme for the benefit of the users.

The comment in Sinhala was the following:

isxy, NdIdj ;sfhkafka wfma rfÜ ú;rhs’ isxy, orejkag bxY%Sisfhka wOHdmkh ,ndÈh hq;af;a fojk NdIdjla f,iskah’ cmka Ök fldßhka reishka rgj, fuu fïkshdj ke;’¶

FB gave the following translation instantly:

“Sinhalese Language is there only in our country. Sinhalese children should be taught in English as a second language. There is no such mania in Japan, China, Korea, Russian countries.”

Of course, in my FB posting I didn’t give details, and it is correct that the shift to English medium in higher education should not be promoted as a ‘mania.’ There is no superiority in English, except it has become an international language. It should be a practical and a pragmatic decision. If such a ‘mania’ exists in the country, it should be corrected or discouraged. Among other commenters, none expressed such a mania existing.

Let me tell you an anecdote. In 1999, I came to the idea that there can be a software programme/s that could translate Sinhala and Tamil into English and vice versa and made a proposal to the then VC of the University of Colombo. I gave some examples how it could work. I made the same proposal to the then Chair of the Official Languages Commission. But there were no opportunities at that time in the country to do so. A friend of mine sarcastically asked me whether I have the computer knowledge to do so and I said ‘no.’ I mention this anecdote to say that such software programmes, now apparently available in audio form as well, could be utilised to teach English to Sinhala and Tamil students effectively.

Some of the short positive comments were: ‘totally agree,’ ‘perfectly said,’ ‘should be,’ ‘definitely,’ ‘agree,’ ‘yes,’ ‘yes of course,’ ‘exactly,’ ‘true’ and so on.

Some commenters took more time to explain their positions. The first I received was “I think a timely needed requirement. It can be started and gradually enhanced. Already study activities are conducted in English at the University [of Colombo] but need to formalise and enhanced further.” Yes, to my knowledge and experience at the University of Colombo and Wayamba University even in the field of Arts, English is promoted positively. These should be formalised and enhanced in other universities as the commenter said.

Then came the suggestions for gradual expansion of English in school education: “Starting from grade 5, an important place should be given to English. So, it is easy for students to do higher education in English then.” Progressive promotion of English was the main idea of the commenter. Others expanded on the subject.

A prominent female educationist explained the proposal saying “It should begin at the primary level. Language can easily be adopted in the childhood rather than in adult age.” She also emphasised like others, “Going with English medium [in higher education] doesn’t mean neglecting our heritage, culture, traditions or our mother languages (Sinhala/Tamil). We can express our heritage better in the internationally recognised language. In this period, we thoroughly need people who think out of the box.”

She also came up with some practical suggestions. In promoting English in schools, “If there are lack of teachers, the opportunity could be given to new graduates who have passed out from the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training Schools” she suggested. The implication was that these graduates even at present are given a fair English teaching ability.

There were further suggestions I could fully agree. “The whole education system should be revised according to the global needs. We are still sticking to the traditional teaching methods and syllabuses. This is not only in schools but also in higher educational institutes based on the same structures and old paradigms.” There were some other positive proposals in her interactive intervention. She always talked about ‘Sinhala and Tamil’ when referring to national languages and her primary vision was for the benefit of young generations. She also mentioned other international languages.

There were similar views expressed by a former schoolteacher with international experience. Enhancing “English language teaching should start from the school system…the first step should be to revise school subjects and syllabuses. When promoted from primary level, students will be able to improve their skills in reading, writing, and speaking gradually by the O/L. Most important is to promote skilled and qualified teachers through teacher training and utilising them all over the island by the education providers.” She also didn’t neglect national languages.

There were several of my former colleagues at the University of Colombo who supported the idea critically and one commented “Agreed but need to prepare from the school education. Infrastructure and necessary human resources should be provided by the government, especially for remote areas.” There was nothing much for me to add. A known social activist also supported the idea and even agreed to promote it through his profile and other means.

There were of course some sarcastic or provocative questions as well! One asked “Campuswala Englishwalin uganwanna puluwan aye innawada? Since this Sinhala was typed in English, the FB didn’t translate it. Perhaps it thought that this was some English or Singlish! The question was “Do we have capable people in Campuses to teach in English?” My answer was: “To my knowledge yes. Not all but some. At present Medicine, Engineering and Sciences are taught in English. Problems are in Arts Faculties. Since they were taught in Sinhala or Tamil, all lecturers might not be in a position to teach automatically in English. In that case they should continuously learn while teaching.”

My assertion may be inaccurate, but all indications are that at present the capabilities are more, although not perfect. My experience has a 10-year gap as I retired from the University of Colombo in 2010. It seems the Faculties of Education and Management are now largely teaching in English. The Kotalawala Academy/University is also an English medium institute. During my time at Colombo many of us started teaching bilingual and our experiences were mixed. Of course, there was some opposition from some lecturers to teach in English because of the trouble involved and inconveniences. All these are common hurdles to overcome through understanding, perseverance, cooperation.

(The writer can be reached at FB Laksiri Fernando | Facebook)

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