Katchatheevu (AsiaNews) – Mgr Raymond Wickramasinghe, bishop of Galle, a diocese in southwestern Sri Lanka, spoke out about what is happening in the country at the recent celebrations at the shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua on Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island that lies between Indian and Sri Lanka.
“It is really important that all citizens perceive that they have equal opportunities and equal capacity to contribute to building the nation,” he said on that occasion.
His remarks about what is happening in the country, where fresh sectarian violence has raised fears about another civil war, is that more important given the experience of 30 years of civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
“Everyone,” he noted, “regardless of ethnicity or language must feel that they are equal partners with equal rights,” he said.
“In this holy season of Lent, let us not confine ourselves only to external rituals. Let us build close and deep bonds with our Lord, who will surely tell us to mend mutual relations as individuals, family and nation.”
“Despite the violence of recent decades, there is a large reservoir of goodwill in our country, among people of all communities. This is made possible by the teachings of the four great religions of the world, which are to pursue peace, compassion and brotherhood.”
Speaking about the celebrations of Saint Anthony, one of the few that that brings together Sri Lankans and Indians, Mgr Wickramasinghe stressed the common features of the two countries separated by a narrow strip of sea.
“We share history. We have many similarities in religious beliefs, customs and traditions, in language as in culture, in dance as in cinema,” the prelate said.
“The same situation exists between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. We share religious and ethnic traits from time immemorial. There are many more than things that unite us than divide us.”
According to the bishop, politicians and leaders of both communities “have admitted the great mistakes of the past. Such awareness represents the ground on which today we can gradually build the pillars of a new nation that guarantees and upholds the rights of all and allows the creation of an inclusive society.”
For the prelate, in order to rebuild a nation torn apart by civil war, at risk once again of drifting towards ethnic and religious violence, “we must overcome our fears. We must change the mindset that leads us to think ‘who did what, to whom and when’. We must go beyond hatred and the feeling of revenge.”
“Forgetting,” he noted, “is not possible. Human memory, even if it wants to, cannot let go. Nonetheless, human beings develop the ability to overcome errors, fears, anger and revenge, and act with compassion, humanity and wisdom.”
Therefore, “All of us, as citizens, must take concrete actions to share faith and friendship in everyday life. Mother Teresa often repeated: ‘Peace begins with a smile’.”