36 Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop at the Oblate Scholasticate - Ampitiya in Kandy, Sri Lanka from the 17th to 20th July 2017 with the theme of “To seek enlightenment and spiritual enrichment”. It was the first time that we have had a meeting at the Oblate Scholasticate in Kandy, where the atmosphere was quite conducive for a meeting of this nature with its seclusion, pleasant climate and the undisturbed surroundings. There were more than 15 lay persons for the first two days, following up the session of Professor Sunil Wijesinghe who made a presentation last year in 2016.
The workshop was planned to combine four dimensions: a) educational, b) collective response to the challenges posed by St. Joseph Vaz in the present day context, c) spiritual reflections. d) Personal reflections.
Professor Sunil Wijesinghe from a Buddhist background further developed the theoretical frameworks for reconciliation between various communities in the country that was first introduced a year ago. He enlightened the group with certain Buddhist concepts, which are very supportive of reconciliation, particularly the concept of “equality” and the “dignity” of human persons. He took the trouble to explain the inter-connectivity among various personal, social, political and the natural where when one component of any of the systems is disrupted, how the entire system is disturbed and everyone is made to suffer. Therefore the need to respect and safeguard the system while promoting creative changes to the benefit of everyone.
The education part also included the new Act on Right to Information, presented by Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
b) Collective Response to the Challenges posed by St. Joseph Vaz in the present day context.
The discussion was preceded by a vivid presentation by Fr. Aanada Fernando that touched on some of the highlights of the life and the work of St. Joseph Vaz mostly with the communities in the south of the country. Fr. Ananda pointed out the challenges posed for us by the saint for our times which touches on every aspect of life as food, clothing, travelling, and dealing with various communities, the ruling elite and the governing officials including the king. He said, the approaches he had adopted in dealing with the common persons and the officials are good for us to emulate.
This sharing was followed by a presentation by Ruki Fernando, where he also drew the lessons for us from the life and work of St. Joseph Vaz for instance his approaches in dealing with the members of non-Christian communities. Dialogue has been found to be the hallmark of his approach to other religious communities, which he said is quite relevant for us living in the context of antipathies and prejudices even attacks on persons and places of worship of other faith denominations.
These two presentations were followed by a lengthy discussion. The relevance of St. Joseph Vaz’s mission for reconciliation, our attitudes towards other religions, were some of the points around which the discussion was held.
) Spiritual Refractions
Scripture Reflection was led by Fr. Jeyabalan Croos taking the scripture passage Luke 15/1 The Parable of the Lost Sheep, where Jesus associates with the poor, the blind, the lame, the hungry, the miserable, sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors,. The reference was a well-defined and unmistakable section of the population. Analyzing this Fr. Jeyabalan said that todays some might refer to this section of the population as the lower class or the oppressed. Further he challenged the participants with the question whether we are willing to associate the so called poor, that category that includes what Luke speaks of.
d) Personal Reflections
Since the inception of this meeting of the members of the clergy from both communities, it has been the standard practice to share with each other their own involvements, particularly in the field of human rights, as well as their own experience in the given context. This matter has largely been neglected due to other pressing issues and activities. Thus it was decided to revive this custom of sharing of experience in the act of “Renewing the Face of the Earth” with the Spirit of Risen Christ.
So the time of taken by most of the participants for the sharing, which was found to be quite enriching.
NEXT MEETING: 05th to 08th February 2018 at BANDARAWELA. An exposure visit to Subaseth Gedera in Buttala of Fr. Michael Rodrigo is proposed as part of the meeting.
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