4 December, 2023

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A Father For The Homeless & A Priest Of The Helpless

By Rehan Fernando

Rehan Derrick Fernando

Preamble

Generally, he needs no introduction. However, it is also quite hard to define this person’s work, especially his contribution to his church as such. He is the founder-director of Ladani Home, which was started in 1985 for many homeless and helpless children. Sri Lanka, as an island, has gone through a massive amount of national crises, which has negatively hindered the lives of thousands of children. Still, we have not fully recovered from those injuries though we have attempted several occasions. Fr Neville Merinus Coonghe, a priest from the Diocese of Chilaw has timely fulfilled his priestly function in creating a space for homeless children in this country. This article, therefore, will impressively explicate Fr Neville’s mission and vision.

A loving Suwamithatta

This title Suwamithatta was popularly given to Revd Fr Oscar Abeyarathna who began the Pubuduwa charismatic movement. He became an island-wide radical thinker and was known to the ordinary people as Suwamithatta. The same title takes a new shape with the work of Fr Neville’s mission as he begins to find a shelter for homeless and helpless children. Accordingly, he has been a father to hundreds of children. It is a title, not taken by his superfluous efforts as many people do today but a name addressed by those poor and abandoned children. Hence, he has not gone after any media promotion and has refused such public promotions of his work. So, the title Suwamithatta does not carry any mythical assumption but it gives life to those who are in need. 

A simple philosopher

A philosopher by his or her nature is a very sophisticated thinker. Thus, a philosopher will always look for ideologies to be philosophized or defined. However, the art of Fr Neville’s philosophy is somewhat different from those sophisticated ideologies. His art relies upon simple mathematics and the science of life. It can fall in line with his management, administration, education, spirituality, theology, reading, contemplation, meditation, and so on. Therefore, he could easily define any complicated issue with a simple gesture and work out practical resolutions. Even though he is a voracious reader he has never found solutions from the chapters he has read but has looked for simple solutions with his lifetime experiences. Another good instance of his simple genius methodology is “one-day-at-a-time.” When most of us are worried about so many massive types of issues and problems, he meditatively and steadily maintains his simple philosophy.

Leads to lead others

A leader should usually have the qualities of flexibility and strong character with humbleness. Unfortunately, those are the very natures that we don’t often come across in the leaders of this country, especially in politics. However, Fr Neville maintains some strong policies of leadership for he does not abandon his staff or anybody who voluntarily works for his institution. Often our leaders would abandon the staff during the trials and tribulations and attempt to be in the limelight for a good reputation. Fr Neville walks difficult and extra miles with his people to form them in leadership. Therefore, he is always ready to face any challenge with his staff and people. He would walk ahead of the people taking any responsibility. Biblically speaking, it is a better quality of a shepherd.   

Apart from his religious approach, his primary conduct in leadership and as a leader impresses true models and paradigm shifts for those who work in such a field. I have seen leaders who work all day without proper teamwork and at the end of the day they go home like buffaloes after a battle. Yet, Fr Neville would more often sit on a chair and manage his work and day’s duties with the staff to the extent of completing the work without any fault. In other words, it excludes superfluous buffaloes’ tiredness of our leaders. 

Concluding remark

Beginning from the 1960s in this country as a matter of fact of our history, I have heard and seen many personalities who genuinely produced things and made infrastructure of this society. Such men and women had a vision to be practiced and a mission to be fulfilled. I guess, Fr Neville will be one last personality in this country who cannot be replaced by any other human agency or movement. We either rarely encounter such men and women or never have a chance to see them again. He, in his mid-seventies, is still online with his work though his health disturbs him from time to time. Amidst his physical illnesses, he is a man of our time who has tirelessly worked with so many people, children, youths, and so on being a Father for the Homeless and a Priest of the helpless. 

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