By Rev. S.J. Emmanuel –
As we commemorate our Independence Day in 2016, I like to make a humble appeal to all the religious leaders of the island to help the political leaders and the people to make their best decisions for the good of all in the island. We are at a decisive phase in our history to move courageously away from the evils of the past and make a reasonable and common sense change for the better. During the last decades we all have gone through bitter experiences of life and death, of conflicts and confrontations and come to a unique chance and decisive phase to save the island from falling further into suffering and sadness.
Party-politics have had too much of power on the lives of people
During the last post-independence decades the governments, which came to power on the basis of party politics were unable to see beyond the profit of the majority and of the party, and were unable to resolve the ethnic conflict as well as its horrendous consequences for the people. Now for the first time in our post-independence history, the opposing parties have formed a coalition government with a united vision of democracy good governance and peaceful coexistence for all in the country. And the Tamil leaders are willing to give a critical collaboration to the government’s efforts.
But the government leaders who showed some courage and even showed signs of becoming statesmen and awakened hope among the peoples, especially the victims of the long war, are now frightened or getting cold-feet before the swelling extremism among the majority Sinhala Buddhists and tend to go back on original promises both to the people and to the international community. Recent interviews of the President and the Prime Minister to international media are showing their fear and helplessness.
Need of the Hour – Religious Leaders to the fore
It is at this hour of need, when party politics try to regain their importance and upset the present journey towards peace, I like humbly to appeal to all the religious leaders of all religions, based on their teachings about truth, justice, accountability, peace and reconciliation and using their presence and popularity among their believers, shed light on the present situation, dispel undue fears, and encourage people to think reasonably and act courageously for the good of all.
We have the teachings of the great Buddha, the Hindu Sages, prophet Mohamed and Jesus Christ, we have the resources by way of personnel and institutions which contribute to the welfare of our peoples. As living religions in the present context of life in Sri Lanka, should we not realize the gravity of the situation in the country and pose questions about our own contribution as religious leaders towards peaceful coexistence of all peoples
Constructive collaboration of all leaders needed
The sacred duty of finding a peaceful-coexistence as modus vivendi of all citizens is the responsibility of all leaders, especially of the religions called to protect and promote life for all. In the past political leaders have sought the support of religious leaders for their political gain especially at election times but kept them away from any serious consultation regarding the well-being of all people. This left a space for people in religious garb to promote even extremist positions.
A basic and urgent requirement in the formation of future leaders, especially religious leaders, is to instill into their hearts and minds, not only a deeper understanding of the teachings of their own religion, but also a positive understanding of all religions. Modus vivendi of a multiethnic and multireligious population must begin at school levels. Personally I was happy as Prefect of studies during my years at the National Seminary in Kandy to go to the Maha Vihare and invite a monk to teach Buddhism to our seminarians.
All religions without exception are for the well-being of human life. And in our context of Sri Lanka, how can we expect only the political leaders to decide what is best for the people. Values like truth, justice, peace, reconciliation are primarily spiritual values enriched by the teachings of religions. These are codified in human laws and political systems nationally and internationally to help a peaceful coexistence. Hence religious leaders must be always vigilant and helpful to the political leaders in their administration of truth and justice.
Finally as a catholic priest, I will humbly appeal to the leader of the present catholic church in Sri Lanka, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. He has to my knowledge always showed keen interest in resolving the ethnic conflict, and as a Sinhala Bishop from the South visited the North often and even sought contact with the LTTE, proclaimed a positive role for the church at the Pastoral Synod of the whole church in April 1995 at the BMICH, Colombo, helped the former Rajapaksa Govt. by lobbying international support for retaining the GSP+, made his submissions to the LLRC etc. He is best suited to initiate and activate the support of all religious leaders as well as the past and present political leaders to help the present government in its pursuit of peaceful coexistence.