04/21/2011, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Amid divisions and openness, Christians celebrate the Sinhalese New Year

by Melani Manel Perera
For Christian religions leaders, Christian participation in Buddhist and Hindu rights must be “cultural” in nature, not spiritual. National harmony must be favoured without forgetting one’s own religious traditions.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Many Christians have been invited to take part in Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies marking Aluth Avurudu, the Sinhalese New Year. However, this has been controversial among Christian faithful and clergy. Some would like to stop Christians from taking part in the festivities, whilst others would instead encourage them in the name of national unity. The reason for some priests is that many Christians have neglected Holy Week and Easter celebrations. In their view, “forgetting” one’s own traditions does not help inter-faith dialogue and cultural openness.

Both Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils celebrate the Sinhalese New Year. This year, the event was marked on 12, 14, 16 and 18 April. Schools and businesses shut down for the occasion, and transportation services were interrupted. As required by tradition, people travelled to their place of origin.

For Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a Catholic priest and human rights activist, Christians can take place in New Year celebrations so long as it is treated as a cultural event. “We cannot take part in practices like Nekath (a ceremony to invoke auspicious times) because as Christians, we believe that every moment comes from God who blessed us and made us holy,” Fr Sarath said. However, “as a cultural event, it is not against our faith.”

On Aluth Avurudu, the clergyman said, people make wishes and take decisions that are important for their lives. Families meet and people get together. “We should encourage these practices for everyone,” he said, “but we should not push Christians to follow them.”

Fr Iddamalgoda and Fr Victor Soosai, vicar general in the Diocese of Mannar, agree. “As Christians,” they noted, “we cannot follow these rituals. Nevertheless, since we live with people from other cultures, it is right to take the good they offer.”  

Rev Dimuth Fernando, from Living Words Ministries, is more frank. “It is sad to see some Churches encourage their members to follow rituals that are against Jesus. God created the sun, the moon, the stars [. . .]. We should celebrate the Lord, not the things he created.”

Some Christians who attended some of the ceremonies spoke to AsiaNews to explain why they participated in Aluth Avurudu festivities.

“It is a celebration that brings together people of different nationalities and religions. It embodies certain social customs and good behaviour and provides an opportunity to promote inter-faith and intercultural harmony,” they said.

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