39 Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Fatima Retreat House, Lewella – Kandy Sri Lanka from the 25th – 28th July 2016 with the theme of “Reconciliation among us and Communities”.
The workshop had two phases: the first was for the members who attended the workshop in 2015 organized by Dr. Shirley Wijesinghe and Professor Brewer from Ireland and the second phase was for the members of RPHR.
27th and 28th July was devoted more for a discussion of the Proposals for a New Constitution for Sri Lanka while the last part of the discussion was focused for an evaluation and future direction of the RPHR.
Professor Sunil Wijesinghe from a Buddhist background, explained a few theoretical frameworks for reconciliation between various communities in the country. 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, like many other persons in the country, found it hard to explain the non-emergence of movements for reconciliation from among the Buddhist community.
The second session commenced with an input from Mr. Lal Wijenayake, the President of the Committee appointed by the parliament to conduct island wide consultation and come up with the proposals for the new constitution, which they did the previous months. Now the New Proposals are submitted to the parliament for their study and eventual deliberations.
Two responses for the input were made by Fr. Ananda – a perspective of the Sinhala clergy, and by Fr. Jeyabalan, the perspective of some of the members of the Tamil community. Discussions continued following the presentations by the three speakers. Fr. Ananda lamented the lack of interest among the members of the Sinhala catholic clergy on matters that affect the nation, even a subject as the Constitution for the country, which he said prevented any active participation in the life of the community. Lay people, he said, showed more interest than the clergy surprisingly in matters that are national.
Fr. Jeyabalan, commenting on the Proposals made to the new constitution, remarked that it fell far short of the expectation of the Tamil community. Prominence given to Buddhism and the recognition given to interest of the Sinhala majority prevented any form of equality of races, religions and other things as the judiciary. Domination of one community of the others will prevent any form of reconciliation and cooperation among communities, he said. In that respect the new constitution will be a failure.
It was agreed that we all need to continue to work to press for equality among all communities as a way forward for the country.
Statement by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
The attention was drawn to a statement that the Cardinal is supposed to have made in a temple in the presence of a number of leading Buddhist monks. The papers reporting the statement said that the Cardinal, apparently supported the view that Buddhism must be given a pride of place in the country. This comes at a time when a large section of the people, particularly the members of the non-Sinhala community and a good majority of the Catholics are openly speaking of a “Secular State” without any special place for any of the religions though in the past Buddhism received a prominent place in the constitution. Even though it was not recognized as the State Religion, nevertheless the emphasis was to give a special privileged place for Buddhism. A good section of the people of other creeds expected a change and when Cardinal reaffirmed the traditional stance, most of us were stunned. So following a short discussion the group decided to send letter to the Cardinal with copies to the press, expressing our disagreement and insisting on the need for a Secular State. This eventually took the form of a statement that was released to the papers later.
The meeting came to a close with the evaluation where the need to have inputs from various resource persons was highlighted. The need to have more members from the other dioceses and congregations, with the possibility of having sessions for a few lay persons is to be explored.
The next meeting was fixed for 1 - 4 February 2017 in Madhu (Mannar), Northern Province, Sri Lanka.